Hold on to your hats because what you’re about to read will shock you.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of people between the ages of 15 and 64 who used illicit drugs around the world in 2013 amounted to a whopping 246 million. To put this alarming number into perspective, this is equal to the population of a country the size of Indonesia. But, that’s not the whole story: The number of illicit drug users has increased 3 million over the previous year 2012. In addition, the report underscores the fact that more than 1 out of 10 drug users is a problem drug user, meaning that at least 10 percent are suffering from some sort of drug use disorder or drug dependency.
As for prevention, treatment, and care, these statistics also point out another alarming fact: Only one out of every six problem drug users in the world has access to treatment.
Let’s take a deeper view of the global outlook for the most drug addicted countries in the world.
The international consensus ranks the following 8 as the most addicted countries in the world:
Between its extremely oppressive government and the strict prohibitions of Islam against drug use, seeing Iran at the top of the list is quite a surprise. And the country’s drug of choice? Opiates. Iran’s strategic location in the Persian Gulf makes it an important transshipment point for Southwest Asian heroin on its way to European markets. But, heroin is not the only problem in Iran. Drugs are also pouring into the country from neighboring Afghanistan, mainly opium. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Though Iran suffers one of the highest opiate addiction rates in the world, it also has an increasing problem with synthetic drugs. Also, the Islamic Republic regularly enforces the death penalty for drug offenses. A lack of adequate funding allocated to the fight against drugs is also a major problem in Iran. For instance, the United Nations Drug Office 4-year budget for the embattled country amounts to only $13 million. On the positive side, though, Iranian border controls has stiffened in recent years making more difficult for drug smugglers and crime syndicates to bring drugs to Iran, reducing, mainly, the supply of heroin.
It is estimated that 1.6 million people in England are alcohol dependent. However, what is more terrifying is that only 6.4% of this number will actually receive treatment for substance abuse. To exacerbate the problem, alcohol is now 40% more affordable in the UK compared to the 80s. Incidentally, 52% of men and 53% of women in the UK drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol at least once during the average week. Also, the country is reportedly a major consumer of Southwest Asian heroin and Latin American cocaine. As for an estimated total drug control expenditure in the UK is estimated at €7.5 billion (US$8.65 billion), 70 percent of that is to cover law enforcement expenditures.
In terms of prescription drug consumption, France actually ranks worse than the US. The fact that it is easier to procure painkillers in France than in the US may be part of the reason. Since prescription drug prices are relatively cheaper in France, this makes them more accessible to the average French citizen. In fact, it is said that a bottle of painkiller medication can reach a price of $133 in the US, while the same bottle could cost in France only the equivalent of $57. The three predominant painkillers consumed in France are: benzodiazepines, buprenorphine and methadone. According to Drug War Facts, when it comes to public spending attributable to the drug and addiction prevention policy, the amount allocated by the French is somewhere close to €28 billion (US$32.28 billion) in 2010 (licit and illicit drugs). This budget accounts roughly to 1.5 percent of the French GDP in 2010.
Slovakia’s main concern with drug-related use and addiction has to do with inhalants. The culprit is a thinner-like, colorless inhalant known as Toluene which in many instances has caused the deaths of its users, especially when inhaled for the first time. The most recent information available about Slovakia’s total drug-related expenditure is for 2006 – total drug-related public expenditure represented 0.05 % of gross domestic product (GDP), with 63.3 % for public order and safety, 14.8 % for treatment, 7.6 % for prevention, 1.8 % for coordination, 1.3 % for education, 0.9 % for harm reduction and 10.3 % for other areas.
Russia’s public health enemy #1 is actually a legal drug: alcohol, namely vodka. The Richest cites research statistics revealing that most of the 25% of Russian men who don’t reach the age of 55 die from alcohol-related causes: liver disease, alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-influenced accidents, violence or even suicide affecting negatively the overall lifespan for the average Russian. On the other hand, the Head of the Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, asserts that Russian citizens spend more on illegal drugs in a year than the annual budget of the Ministry of Defense. Aside from alcohol, heroin also constitutes an enormous problem. A porous border with Afghanistan where the upstream heroin drug trade originates could the problem.
It is estimated that about a 1 million people in Afghanistan are addicted to heroin. It is worth mentioning that Afghanistan is the leading producer of poppy opium. Additionally, it is reported that up to 50% of opium-using parents also give the drug to their children. In post-war Afghanistan according to CIA World Fact Book, the Taliban and other antigovernment groups participate in and profit from the opiate trade, which is a key source of revenue for the Taliban inside Afghanistan. In post-war reconstruction, corruption and instability in Afghanistan make it harder for the government to devise a sound drug policy reform. Drug War Facts states that in the 2005-2008 period the cumulative revenue from opiate farming and trade accruing to Taliban insurgents is estimated at US$350-650 million.
Our northern neighbors and NAFTA partners show some alarming statistics when it comes to marijuana addiction. 44.3% of the population of British Columbia reports using marijuana at least once. According to Drug War Facts, prevalence of marijuana use among Canadians age 15 and older was 10.2% in 2012. Similarly, the total direct social costs associated with combined illicit drugs in Canada amounts to $3.5 billion. Incidentally, the World Fact Book refers to Canada as an “illicit producer of cannabis for the domestic drug market and export to US; use of hydroponics technology permits growers to plant large quantities of high-quality marijuana indoors; [Canada is also a major contributor to] increasing ecstasy production, some of which is destined for the US.” In an attempt to deter these staggering drug abuse statistics, the Canada Drug Policy Coalition has recommended the decriminalization of marijuana use. The policy shift has been scheduled for 2017.
And at the bottom of the Top 8 Most Drug Addicted Countries comes the USA. Reportedly, 7 out of 10 Americans have been on at least one prescription painkiller in their lifetime. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 52 million people in the United States over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs in the US. CNN reported that 47,055 people died from drug overdoses in 2014. In addition, 61% of all drug overdose deaths are attributed to opioid abuse. However, a more alarming statistic comes from SAMHSA administrator, Pamela S. Hyde, who states that almost 5,500 people start to misuse prescription painkillers every day. So it is in light of these astounding statistics of epidemic proportions that the Obama administration has turned its attention and remaining political capital to taking a strong stance and action, especially against prescription painkillers.
While this might seem like an auspicious moment in our current political environment for carrying out a sound policy strategy for the treatment and prevention of addiction, the 2017 federal budget proposed by President Obama asks for $31.1 billion in order to support the National Drug Control Strategy to reduce drug consumption and its negative repercussions in the United States. Compared to 2016 budget, this budget request represents an increase of more than $500 million (1.7%) compared to FY 2016 level of $30.6 billion. Overall, an increasing budget and favorable political environment constitute a positive step in the right direction towards a sound and effective health and public safety program. The groundbreaking impact of this increase in funding could be that it will be focused on the demand reduction efforts rather than the traditional and ineffective approach focused on supply reduction.
The verdict, according the facts and numbers from the countries most affected by drug use, is that not enough is being done including allocating budgets to counteract the repercussions of addiction. A lack of a comprehensive drug policy control that takes into consideration a sound evidence-based approach that treats addiction as a disease of the brain, rather than as a moral failing. Although every country faces its own socioeconomic realities and challenges, for a global War on Drugs to be effective, it must be deployed worldwide having perhaps the leading countries of the world taking on a more active role in supporting and sustaining the recovery efforts of less developed countries embattled by the ongoing drug epidemic.
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Executive Office of the President of the United States. National Drug Control Budget. FY 2017 Funding Highlights. February 2016. Retrieved on April 29, 2016
European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Country Overview: Slovakia. A Summary of the National Drug Situation. Retrieved April 29, 2016
Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook: Illicit Drugs. Retrieved April 28, 2016
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2015. Retrieved April 28, 2016
Drug War Facts. International Data and Policies. European Union. Retrieved April 29, 2016
Country Ranker. Most Drug Addicted Countries in the World. Retrieved April 28, 2016
Insider Monkey. The 11 Most Drug Addicted Countries in the World. Retrieved April 28, 2016
The Richest. 10 of the Most Drug Addicted Countries. Retrieved April 28, 2016