Drugs: UN World Drug Report, consumption increases everywhere despite prohibition

Drugs: UN World Drug Report, consumption increases everywhere despite prohibition

On May 26th, 2019, on the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) presented the 2019 World Drug Report.

Science for Democracy’s Coordinator Marco Perduca, who together with Guido Long followed the presentation, noted that “the important methodological novelty is in data collection – for example from Nigeria – which resulted in estimates’ increases. If and when all of Africa and all of Asia follow suit, we will have the “surprise” of discovering that the consumption of illicit substances is a cultural phenomenon that concerns way more people than the 271 million declared today, who represent a 30% increase on ten years ago.

With the increase in use of substances managed by criminal organisations, problematic use also increases from 30.5 to 35 million at global level. The number of deaths also increases, to 585,000, even if it’s not clear whether they are linked to overdoses or contributory causes.

The most common substance remains cannabis, with 188 million consumers. The increase in opioids (even legal ones) users is striking: 56% compared to the estimate for 2016.

Unfortunately, the relationship between drugs and blood diseases also doesn’t decrease: 1.4 million (out of a total of 11) people who inject drugs live with HIV, while 5.6 live with Hepatitis C and 1.2 with both.

The theme of this year’s international day was “health for justice and justice for health”, though the disastrous impacts on the health of who is prosecuted, if not persecuted, for drug-related crimes is not acknowledged in the report. Much more is still invested in the securitarian and penitentiary aspect rather than the socio-sanitary one. All of this despite the increase in consumption and in particular problematic consumption. And yet, the Report ends with a recommendation about the necessity of providing help to those in need (only one in 7 people who need support gets it).

The document also refers to the danger of risk concentration (for example in prisons), but also the so-called “too much and not enough” paradox, relative to the medical use of painkillers and the prevalence of opioids for non-medical use. As was already the case in the International Narcotics Control Board’s report, there are also several pages dedicated to the legal cannabis market and the presence of criminality also in countries where it was legalised, and the necessity to closely monitor these situations.”

Marco Perduca concludes: “the possibility that from later this year the leadership of UNODC moves from the hands of a Russian to those of a Chinese does not bode well for a future in which the UN start assessing the impact of “international drug control” measures on health and the administration of justice, as well as on the environment. It is necessary that Europeans, both individually and as EU, coordinate a response that on the one hand counters the sino-russo-arab policing and punitive front, and on the other does not get in the way of the WHO recommendation to reschedule cannabis in light of its ‘therapeutic potential’.”

If you are interested in reading more about the presentation you can visit the CND Blog by the International Drug Policy Consortium.