Synthetic opioid use is booming, the United Nations said on Wednesday, in a worldwide drug report that shows rising deaths in the United States from overdoses and a “crisis” of tramadol use emerging in parts of Africa.
The number of people using drugs in 2017, about 271 million, was 30 percent higher than in 2009, the report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found.
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The use of opioids – an umbrella term for drugs ranging from opium and derivatives such as heroin to synthetics like fentanyl and tramadol – was up 56 percent from 2016, with 53 million users worldwide.
The higher numbers stemmed in part from improved research and more precise data – including from surveys in Nigeria and India, among the 10 most populous countries in the world, the report said.
Increased drug use has had health effects, the report said, with 35 million people in 2017 suffering from drug-related disorders requiring treatment, up from an earlier estimate of 30.5 million.
Only one in seven people who needed it had received treatment for drug problems.
Opioids were responsible for two-thirds of the 585,000 people who died in 2017 as a result of drug use.
“The findings of this year’s World Drug Report fill in and further complicate the global picture of drug challenges, underscoring the need for broader international cooperation to advance balanced and integrated health and criminal justice responses to supply and demand,” said Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director.
The report included in-depth analysis of drug use and its adverse health consequences in prison settings, where those jailed were “especially vulnerable to drug use and face higher risks of HIV and hepatitis C transmission”.
“Drug overdoses have really reached epidemic proportions in North America,” UNODC research chief Angela Me said.
More than 47,000 people died from lethal opioid doses in the United States in 2017, and nearly 4,000 people in Canada. The powerful analgesic fentanyl and similar substances are the main killers among drug users in that region.
While this epidemic has received public attention in recent years, Me pointed out that there is another opioid crisis unfolding in African and Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana, where abuse of the pain medication tramadol has emerged as a problem.
The report’s data not only showed a higher prevalence of the use of opioids in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, but also showed the use of cannabis in North America, South America and Asia rose compared with 2009.
The estimated global illicit manufacture of cocaine reached an all-time high of 1,976 tonnes in 2017, an increase of 25 percent from the previous year.
At the same time, the global quantity of cocaine seized in 2017 rose by 13 percent to 1,275 tonnes, the largest ever reported, the report said.
The most widely used drug globally continued to be cannabis, with an estimated 188 million people having used the drug in 2017.