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Global health

Illicit drug users are on the rise, finds UN report

Worldwide an estimated 246 million people - or slightly more than 5% of those aged 15 to 64 years - used an illicit drug in 2013, up by three million over the previous year, according to the World Drug Report, 2015

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A UN report finds that men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines

Worldwide an estimated 246 million people — or around 5% of those aged 15–64 years — used an illicit drug in 2013, a rise of three million over the previous year, says a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 

The study says the number of drug-related deaths remained relatively unchanged at an estimated 187,000 deaths. 

But the report also highlights that more than 27 million people — or one out of ten drug users — is a problem user, suffering from drug use disorders or drug dependence. 

Of the problem users, 12.2 million injected drugs, and an estimated 1.7 million of those who injected drugs were living with HIV. 

The report says the use of cannabis and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids has continued to rise, and notes that men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines. 

By contrast, women are more likely to misuse prescription drugs, particularly prescription opioids and tranquillisers. In the United States, OxyContin (oxycodone) is one of the main prescription opioids that are misused. 

The Vienna-based agency’s report, however, says that only one out of every six problem drug users in the world has access to treatment. 

“An unacceptable number of drug users continue to lose their lives prematurely, often as a result of an overdose — even though overdose-related deaths are preventable,” it says. 

Gilberto Gerra, UNODC chief for drug prevention and health, stressed that drug users are a disadvantaged population, but are criminally prosecuted and put in jail. 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20068938

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  • Worldwide an estimated 246 million people - or slightly more than 5% of those aged 15 to 64 years - used an illicit drug in 2013, up by three million over the previous year, according to the World Drug Report, 2015

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