Opiates and cocaine ‘bigger global health threat than ever’

Record-high production levels for opiates and cocaine, coupled with expanding drug markets, mean the drugs are now a ‘bigger global threat to public health and law enforcement than ever before’, according to UNODC’s latest World drug report.

Global opium production grew by 65 per cent between 2016 and 2017, the highest estimate ever recorded by UNODC, with production in Afghanistan increasing by a ‘profoundly alarming’ 87 per cent (DDN, December/January, page 4). Global cocaine manufacture, meanwhile, also reached its highest ever level in 2016, at an estimated 1,410 tons. The number of people worldwide who inject drugs now stands at around 10.6m, says the document, with more than half of them living with hepatitis C and one in eight living with HIV.

The world drug situation now presents ‘multiple challenges on multiple fronts’, says the agency, with pharmaceutically produced opioids accounting for 76 per cent of all non-medical prescription drug deaths. As well as the worsening problem with fentanyl in the US, tramadol is now becoming ‘a growing concern’ in parts of Asia and Africa, says the report. Global seizures of pharmaceutical opioids amounted to almost 90 tons in 2016, the vast majority in west, central and north Africa.

António Guterres: ‘Advance prevention and treatment’

UN secretary-general António Guterres urged countries to ‘advance prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration services; ensure access to controlled medicines while preventing diversion and abuse; promote alternatives to illicit drug cultivation, and stop trafficking and organised crime.’

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Scottish Drug Misuse Database reinforce the narrative of an aging cohort of entrenched drug users, with the proportion of people assessed for specialist drug treatment who are over 35 increasing from under 30 per cent to more than 50 per cent in the ten years to 2016-17.

However, the numbers also point to declining heroin use overall – while heroin remains the most common substance for which people seek treatment, the percentage of those reporting it as their main drug has fallen from 64 per cent to 46 per cent over the same decade. Rates of injecting and needle/syringe sharing have also fallen, from 28 to 18 per cent and 12 to 6 per cent respectively.

World drug report 2018 at http://www.unodc.org

Scottish drug misuse database annual report at www.isdscotland.org

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