Understanding Global Shifts in Drug Use Can Guide Prevention Efforts

Designer Drugs Multiplying at Alarming RateThe U.N.’s newly released World Drug Report 2014 supplies critically important information on global drug use. The U.N. estimates that in 2012, 243 million people had used an illicit drug during the preceding 12 months. Those drugs were most likely to be cannabis, opioids, cocaine or an amphetamine-type stimulant. The numbers of users amounts to 5.2 percent of the world population.

Gender plays a strong role in overall risk of drug abuse in any given year. While illicit drug use varies from one country to another, it is more likely to occur among men than women, with men two to three times more likely than women to have used a drug in the past year.

Not everyone who uses drugs on a global basis is addicted; in fact the majority of drug users do not meet criteria for addiction. The report notes that approximately 27 million people worldwide are problem drug users, including those who are dependent or addicted to drugs.

Globally, since 2009, there has been an increase in the number of users who prefer opioids or cannabis, but opiates and cocaine have decreased in use or remained stable in that same period. However, it is important to note that not all countries regularly conduct surveys on drug use patterns; some countries only collect the information every five years.

The U.N.’s report should be helpful in determining the effectiveness of drug-use reduction strategies across the globe. A rise in the use of opioids and cannabis in one region may help policymakers in countries that have not seen that trend prepare for the possibility that abuse of those two types of drugs may soon increase within their own borders.

The report also helps policymakers understand the segments of the population who may be most at-risk for developing a drug-use problem. The report notes for instance that men are more likely than women to abuse drugs. A country that understands these risk factors may be able to look to other countries and compare prevention strategies with the goal of developing a more effective plan to reduce drug use.