The World Drug Report 2022 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the evolution of uses in countries that have legalized cannabis, the environmental impact of illicit drugs, and the drug use among women and young people.
According to the UNODC, the legalization of cannabis in some parts of the world appears to have accelerated daily use and related health effects.
Released on Monday, the report also details record increases in cocaine manufacture, the expansion of synthetic drugs into new markets and continuing gaps in the availability of drug treatment, particularly for women.
Young people use more drugs
According to the report, around 284 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 will use drugs worldwide in 2020, an increase of 26% over the previous decade. Young people are using more drugs, with levels of use now higher in many countries than the previous generation. In Africa and Latin America, people under 35 represent the majority of people treated for drug use disorders.
Globally, the report estimates that 11.2 million people inject drugs. About half of them are living with hepatitis C, 1.4 million with HIV and 1.2 million with both.
Reacting to these findings, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said, “The manufacture and seizure figures of many illicit drugs are skyrocketing even as global crises deepen vulnerabilities. At the same time, misperceptions about the scale of the problem and the associated dangers deprive people of care and treatment, and push young people into dangerous behaviors”.
“We must devote the resources and attention to addressing every aspect of the world drug problem, including the provision of evidence-based care to all who need it, and we must improve our knowledge of the links between illicit drugs, conflict and environmental degradation,” she added.
The report further highlights the importance of strengthening prevention and treatment measures, as well as tackling the supply of illicit drugs.
First lessons on the effects of cannabis legalization
The legalization of cannabis in many territories in North America appears to have led to an increase in daily cannabis use, particularly of potent products and especially among young adults.
Reports of people with psychiatric disorders, suicides and hospitalizations have increased. Legalization has also increased tax revenue and generally reduced arrest rates for cannabis possession.
Cocaine manufacture hit record high in 2020
Cocaine manufacture hit a record high in 2020, rising 11% from 2019 to 1,982 tons. Cocaine seizures also increased despite the pandemic to reach 1,424 tons in 2020, a new record.
Nearly 90% of the cocaine seized worldwide in 2021 was trafficked in containers and/or by sea. Seizure data suggests that cocaine trafficking is expanding to other regions outside of the main markets in North America and Europe, with increasing levels of trafficking to Africa and Asia.
Methamphetamine trafficking continues to expand geographically, with 117 countries reporting seizures between 2016 and 2020 compared to 84 between 2006 and 2010. At the same time, the quantities of methamphetamine seized have increased fivefold between 2010 and 2020.
Global opium production increased by 7% between 2020 and 2021 to reach 7,930 tons – mainly due to an increase in production in Afghanistan. However, the global area devoted to opium poppy cultivation fell by 16% to 246,800 hectares during the same period.
Main regional trends
In many countries in Africa and South and Central America, the bulk of people in treatment for drug use disorders are primarily for cannabis use disorders. In Eastern and Southeastern Europe and Central Asia, people are most often in treatment for opioid use disorders.
In the United States and Canada, overdose deaths, primarily due to an epidemic of non-medical use of fentanyl, continue to break records. Preliminary estimates in the United States point to more than 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021, up from nearly 92,000 in 2020.
In the two largest methamphetamine markets, seizures increased – by 7% in North America compared to the previous year, while in Southeast Asia they were up 30% compared to l previous year, records in both regions. A record was also reported for methamphetamine seizures in Southwest Asia, with a 50% increase in 2020 compared to 2019.
In conflict zones like Ukraine, the production of synthetic drugs is exploding
The new report also highlights that the drug trade thrives in conflict situations and where the rule of law is weak, which in turn can prolong or fuel conflict in a vicious circle.
The number of clandestine labs reported in Ukraine has increased significantly, with 79 labs dismantled in 2020 compared to 17 in 2019. 67 of these clandestine labs produced amphetamines – a world record for a country in 2020.
The carbon footprint of drugs dissected
The carbon footprint of cannabis grown indoors is on average 16 to 100 times greater than that of cannabis grown outdoors; that of one kilogram of cocaine is 30 times greater than that of cocoa beans, according to the report.
Among other environmental impacts, the report cites deforestation associated with the illicit cultivation of coca, the waste generated during the manufacture of synthetic drugs, which can be 5 to 30 times the volume of the final product, and the dumping of waste in soil, water and air, indirectly affecting organisms, animals and the food chain.
A persistent gender gap
Women remain a minority among drug users worldwide, but they tend to increase their intake and develop disorders more quickly than men. It is estimated that women now represent 45-49% of users of amphetamines, pharmaceutical stimulants, opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers.
The treatment gap remains significant for women worldwide: although women account for nearly one in two amphetamine users, they constitute only one in five people in treatment for drug use disorders. amphetamines.