Illegal Drug Use Around the World — 5 Things You Need to Know

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Much of the increase in illegal drug use worldwide will take place in developing countries.

Global illegal drug use is expected to rise by 25% over the next few decades as rapid urbanization, industrialization, and population growth in developing countries fuel the demand for illegal substances, the UN’s anti-drug agency said in its new annual report this week. The report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), which underlines the fight against drug abuse with data on the consumption and production of illegal substances, also projects that developing countries will shoulder the burden of the global drug problem in the coming decades.

Here are the highlights of the UN findings:

1. Roughly 230 million people have used an illegal drug at least once in 2010.

In 2010, 5% of the world adult population aged 15-64 used illegal drugs at least once. Problem drug users, who mainly depend on cocaine and heroin, make up an estimated 0.6% of the world adult population, amounting to roughly 27 million. Every year, approximately 200,000 people worldwide die from drug abuse.

2. The global number of illegal drug users will go up by 25% by 2050.

If the annual prevalence of illegal drug use stays stable at 5% of the adult population over the next few decades, demographic trends indicate that the total number of illicit drug users will increase by a quarter by 2050, which is in proportion to world population growth. Although the current rate of 5% might appear like a small proportion of the world’s adult population, if this rate continues, there may be some extra 65 million illegal drug users by 2050 compared to 2009-2010.

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3. The increase in illicit drug use will be most pronounced in developing countries.

Drug use is linked to urbanization. With the urban population of developing countries expected to double between 2011 and 2050, they will see a marked increase in the demand for drugs. In other words, the burden of the global drug problem will shift to countries that are relatively ill-equipped to deal with it, explains Yury Fedotov, the UN anti-drugs chief. In addition, developing countries’ higher projected population growth and younger populations, the main consumers of drugs, will raise the demand for illicit drugs in those nations.

4. Two of the world’s most popular illegal drugs are cannabis (marijuana) and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS).

There are an estimated 119-224 million marijuana users globally, making it the most popular illegal substance in the world. Amphetamine-type stimulants, such as methamphetamine (but excluding ecstasy), come in second with around 14-52.5 million users worldwide. As of now there are no signs that marijuana will lose its status as the illegal drug of choice, says the report.

5. More women will use illicit drugs.

While men who take illegal drugs still greatly outnumber women, the gender gap, especially in developing countries, will narrow as conservative, sociocultural barriers break down and as gender equality improves.

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