Illicit drug supply at record heights

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According to a 2018 World Drug report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this week (26th June 2018) the supply of illicit drugs such as cocaine, opium and heroin have reached record heights.

World Bank/Trinn Suwannapha. Methadone Maintenance Therapy is offered in Thailand to reduce harm for people dependent on injected opioids, like heroin.
World Bank/Trinn Suwannapha. Methadone Maintenance Therapy is offered in Thailand to reduce harm for people dependent on injected opioids, like heroin.

The report says that cocaine supply in 2016 and opium supply in 2016 and 2017 reached record levels. There is an exponential rise in non-medical use of prescription drugs such as fentanyl. These have given rise to deaths due to overdose in the United States says the report. While United States and Canada saw a rise in fentanyl use, there is a rise of nonmedical use of tramadol in Asia and parts of Africa. The report reveals that in 2015 there were 450000 deaths that have occurred due to drug use and its complications. Of these around 40 percent were due to overdosage especially with opioids. The other 60 percent of the deaths were caused due to unsafe injection practices giving rise to HIV and Hepatitis C infections.

According to a statement made by UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov, “Drug markets are expanding, with cocaine and opium production hitting absolute record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts.” Thomas Pietschmann, a drug research expert at the UNODC, and lead author of the report said that the real problem lies in the “increase in opium production in Afghanistan”. There is also a huge rise in cocaine production in Colombia he said. Tramadol comes from terrorist networks of the Middle East and is flooding Africa and India too remains a major supplier of tramadol says Pietschmann. He explained that there are recent control measures in India that could mean that the supply could be curbed.

The report shows that baby boomers are increasingly using illicit drugs. Those over 50 years of age were using drugs more than before. Between 1996 and 2016, drug use has risen by seven times said Pietschmann. He said that this trend is seen commonly in US, Europe, South America and Australia. Around 275 million people aged between 15 and 64 years were found to have used illicit drugs at least once in 2016 says the report. Cannabis was used by 192 million while opioids and amphetamines were used by 32 million users each.

Another issue that was brought to forefront was drug use among women. The report showed that one third of women (33 percent) were drug users. Their drug consumption might be lower than the men but it was found that women were more likely to become dependent on drug use than men.

The report shows that in 2016 a total of 1,410 tons of cocaine were produced worldwide and this was the highest in the last few years. Opium production too has reached record levels at 10,500 tons between 2016 and 2017 says the report. Pietschmann says that government policies as well as alternative development options are necessary to reduce drug production and supplies. Farmers for example need to be provided profitable livelihood options as alternatives. He said that drugs kill thousands and thus makes the issue a grave one. “We are talking about 64,000 people dying in 2016 from drugs,” he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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