The non-medical use of prescription drugs is becoming a major threat to public health and law enforcement worldwide with opioids causing the most harm and accounting for 76 per cent of deaths where drug use disorders were implicated, according to the latest World Drug Report, released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Fentanyl and its analogues remain a problem in North America, while tramadol – an opioid used to treat moderate and moderate-to-severe pain – has become a growing concern in parts of Africa and Asia. Accessibility of fentanyl and tramadol for medical use is vital for treating pain, but traffickers manufacture them illicitly and promote them in illegal markets causing considerable harm to health.
The global seizure of pharmaceutical opioids in 2016 was 87 tons, roughly the same as the quantities of heroin seized that year. Seizures of pharmaceutical opioids – mainly tramadol in West and Central Africa, and North Africa accounted for 87 per cent of the global total in 2016. Countries in Asia, which had previously accounted for more than half of global seizures, reported just 7 per cent of the global total in 2016.
Global cocaine manufacture in 2016 reached the highest level ever reported, with an estimated 1,410 tons being produced. Most of the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia while the Report also showed that Africa and Asia are emerging as cocaine trafficking and consumption hubs.
From 2016-2017, global opium production jumped by 65 per cent to 10,500 tons, the highest estimate recorded by UNODC since it started monitoring global opium production at the start of the twenty-first century. A marked increase in opium poppy cultivation and gradually improving yields in Afghanistan resulted in opium production there last year reaching 9,000 tons.
Globally, deaths directly caused by the use of drugs increased by 60 per cent from 2000 to 2015. People over the age of 50 accounted for 27 per cent of these deaths in 2000, but this had risen to 39 per cent in 2015. About three quarters of deaths from drug use disorders among those aged 50 and older are among the ageing cohort of opioid users.
The majority of people who use drugs are men, but women have specific drug use patterns, the Report finds. The prevalence of non-medical use of opioids and tranquillizers by women remains at a comparable level to that of men, if not actually higher. While women may typically begin using substances later than men, once they have initiated substance use, women tend to increase their rate of consumption of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and opioids more rapidly than men as well as rapidly develop drug use disorders.
Women with substance use disorders are reported to have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and may also have experienced childhood adversity such as physical neglect, abuse or sexual abuse. Women continue to account for only one in five people in treatment. The proportion of females in treatment tends to be higher for tranquillizers and sedatives than for other substances. Drug use treatment and HIV prevention, treatment and care should be tailored to the specific needs of women.
Direct to Complete Summary
Direct to Booklets (PDF)
- Booklet 1: Executive summary – Conclusions and Policy Implications
- Booklet 2: Global Overview of Drug Demand and Supply
- Booklet 3: Analysis of Drug Markets – Opioids, Cocaine, Cannabis, Synthetic Drugs
- Booklet 4: Drugs and Age – Drugs and Associated Issues Among Young People and Older People
- Booklet 5: Women and Drugs – Drug Use, Drug Supply And Their Consequences