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The facts and figures about global drug use
The UN World Drug Report for 2023 shows the latest trends for the 296 million people who use drugs.

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World Drug Report

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has just (26 June 2023) launched the 2023 edition of its World Drug Report. This is a comprehensive piece of work which includes a separate Special Points of Interest publication which includes key takeaways and policy implications. In addition to providing an in-depth analysis of key developments and emerging trends in selected drug markets, including in countries currently experiencing conflict, another publication (known as booklet 2) focuses on a number of other contemporary issues related to drugs.

In this short blog post, I simply share some of the headline facts and figures.

UNODC calculates that 296 million people used drugs across the world in 2021, an increase of almost one quarter (23%) over the last decade. Unsurprisingly, the most popular drug was cannabis with 219 million reported users. People in drug treatment in Europe (45%), the Americas (36%) and Africa (37%) are more likely to be opioid users while their counterparts in Asia (47%) and Oceania (42%) are more likely to use “amphetamine-like stimulants”. Women make up just 3% of people in drug treatment in Asia but 37% of those in treatment in Oceania.

Production and  cultivation

The UN calculates that cultivation of the opium poppy increased by 28% between 2021 and 2022 with the cultivation of coca bushes jumping by 35% between 2020-21. It also charts a big growth in the number of New Psychoactive Substances on the market over the last decade, with a total of 618 different NPS for sale in 2021.

Inequalities

The report concludes that inequality and social and economic disparities continue to drive and be driven by the drug phenomenon, threating public health and human rights. It says that disparities between the global North and South, urban and rural settings, and across subpopulations all contribute to the harms from drugs.

Access to treatment

The UNODC finds that demand for treating drug-related disorders remains largely unmet and disparities in access persist. Globally, about one in five people with drug use disorders received treatment in 2021, with large disparities across regions and in the type and quality of treatment received. Not all forms of treatment respect human rights or are evidence-based. 

Women face barriers in accessing drug treatment services: in 2021, 45 per cent of those who used
amphetamine-type stimulants in the past year were women, but only 27 per cent of those in treatment are women. Overall, the lowest proportions of women in drug-related treatment are in
Asia and Africa and the highest proportions are in the subregions of Australia and New Zealand as well as in North America. 

Drug-by-drug developments

The report provides helpful short overviews of the developments related to a particular drug. I have reproduced the summary for opioids below.

Recommendations

In addition to an overview of all the different drug-related challenges facing the world, the UNODC report also suggests a range of possible responses. In terms of tackling drug-related arms, the UNODC recommends a tripartite approach with:

  1. Measures aimed at minimising the adverse public health and social consequences of drug use
  2. Drug-related treatment services and
  3. Prevention of drug use programmes.

In terms of effective treatment responses, the report highlights the importance of 

  • Voluntary treatment provision based on human rights
  • Approaches which reduce stigma in order to make treatment services more accessible and
  • The importance of addressing mental health in efforts to prevent as well as treat drug use.

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One Response

  1. I’d like to have a bar graph showing me the death rates in UK from drugs,smoking and alcohol. Can you direct me to one. I’m doing research on pre-court disposals

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