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Drug Use Surging in Developing Nations

Illicit drug use in developing countries will double by 2050, predicts the UN's 2012 World Drug Report.


The UN reports one in 20 people took
illicit drugs at least once in 2010. Photo via

By Gabrielle Wuhl


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The UN's annual World Drug Report, newly-released reveals global trends including a steep rise in illicit drug use in developing nations. According to the UN's office on drugs and crime (UNODC), some 230 million people (five percent of the global population aged 15-64) used illegal drugs at least once in 2010. And this is expected to rise; the report predicts that the number of illicit drug users worldwide will grow 25% by 2050. The bulk of this increase is expected to occur in developing countries, where shifts in cultural acceptance and gender equality have contributed to rapidly increasing illicit drug use. In fact, drug use in poorer countries could double by 2050 while remaining stable in more developed nations. The report also shows 27 million people across the globe (roughly 1 in every 200 people) is a "problem drug user"—by definition a chronic user of heroin or cocaine. And while there is a slight decrease in global heroin and cocaine use, the popularity of synthetic drugs like meth and ecstasy, including lab-produced "legal highs," is growing. The reigning global drug is still marijuana—and with an estimated 119 million-224 million users, it's expected to stay in first place. But gaining momentum are prescription drugs—which experts predict will be the upcoming generation's substances of choice. Deaths from abuse and misuse of Rx painkillers have quadrupled since 1999 in the US, where they now outnumber heroin and cocaine-related deaths combined. The White House has officially declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic, and America's fastest-growing drug problem. 

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