Drug production and markets are expanding to unprecedented levels and an increase in non-medical use of prescription drugs is leading to a worldwide public health crisis, according to a UN report released on Tuesday.
“The findings of this year’s World Drug Report show that drug markets are expanding, with cocaine and opium production hitting absolute record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts,” said UN Office on Drugs and Crimes Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
The report warns that cocaine and methamphetamine markets are expanding “beyond their usual regions,” darknet drug trafficking keeps growing and non-medical use of prescription drugs has become a worldwide threat to public health and law enforcement.
At the same time, more new psychoactive substances are being synthesized and made available, with an associated increase in harm and fatalities.
Deaths directly caused by drug use increased by 60 per cent from 2000 to 2015.
While cocaine production had fallen between 2005 and 2013, it reached its highest level ever in 2016 with an estimate 1,410 tons, an increase of almost 60 percent from 2013. Most of the coca cultivation happened in Colombia.
While the fentanyl crisis in North America has been covered extensively in media, a similar epidemic is happening in Africa with the use of another opioid called tramadol, “rates of which are soaring” in parts of the continent.
A possible reason behind this trend might be a spillover of the “ongoing trafficking of heroin
and pharmaceutical opioids in transit through Africa.”
Tramadol abuse is also expanding to Asia.
The report questions the strategy of the decades-long international war on drugs and points out the importance of drug treatment and health services, which “continue to fall short.”
Only one in six people suffering from drug use disorders are receiving treatment. Around 450,000 people died in 2015 as a result from drug use and over 160,000 of those were a direct result of drug disorders.
“The international community needs to step up its responses to cope with these challenges,” the report said.
While the overall amount of seized drugs has increased, the seized quantities are smaller, indicating that drug traffickers are choosing to reduce the losses resulting from intercepted packages.
The UN needs to improve “international cooperation and law enforcement capacities to dismantle organized criminal groups and stop drug trafficking,” the report said.