Center of Excellence for Reducing the Supply of Illicit Drugs

World Drug Report 2021: Pandemic Effects Ramp Up Drug Risks, As Youth Underestimate Cannabis Dangers

Vienna, June 24, 2021 — About 275 million people have used drugs worldwide in the last year, while more than 36 million have suffered from disorders associated with drug use, according to the World Drug Report 2021, released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The Report also points out that in the last 24 years the potency of cannabis has increased by up to four times in parts of the world, even though the percentage of teenagers who perceive the drug as harmful has fallen by as much as 40%, despite evidence that the use of cannabis. cannabis is associated with a variety of health hazards, among others, particularly among long-term regular users.

“Lower perception of the risks of drug use has been associated with higher rates of drug use and the findings of the UNODC World Drug Report 2021 highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard health public,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

The theme of this year's International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share Facts About Drugs. Save Lives.”, emphasizing the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness so that the international community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, better target efforts to prevent and treat drug use , in addition to facing the global drug challenges.

According to the Report, the percentage of Δ9-THC — the main psychoactive component of cannabis — increased from about 6% to more than 11% in Europe between 2002 and 2019, and from about 4% to 16% in the United States, between 1995-2019, while the percentage of teenagers who perceived cannabis as harmful dropped 40% in the United States and 25% in Europe.

In addition, most countries reported an increase in cannabis use during the pandemic. In surveys of health professionals in 77 countries, 42% said that cannabis use had increased. An increase in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs was also observed over the same period.

Increased drug use, but with greater availability of science-based treatment

Between 2010 and 2019, the number of people who use drugs increased by 22%, in part due to the growth of the world's population. Based only on demographic changes, current projections suggest an 11% increase in the number of people using drugs globally by 2030 — and a sharp 40% increase in Africa, due to its rapid growth and young population.

According to the latest global estimates, about 5,5% of the population between 15 and 64 years old have used drugs at least once in the last year, while 36,3 million people, or 13% of the total number of people who use drugs, suffer from disorders associated with drug use.

Globally, it is estimated that more than 11 million people inject drugs, half of whom live with Hepatitis C. Opioids continue to be responsible for the largest volume of illnesses attributed to drug use.

The two most commonly used pharmaceutical opioids to treat people with disorders associated with their use, methadone and buprenorphine, have become increasingly accessible over the past two decades. The amount available for medical use has increased sixfold since 1999, from 557 million doses per day to 3,317 million by 2019, indicating that science-based pharmacological treatment is more available now than in the past.

The Dark Web

The dark web drug markets emerged just a decade ago, but the main markets are now worth at least $315 million in annual sales. While this is only a fraction of global drug sales, the trend is for growth with a fourfold increase between 2011 and mid-2017 and mid-2017 to 2020.

Rapid technological innovation, combined with the agility and adaptability of those using new platforms to sell drugs and other substances, will likely open up a globalized marketplace where all drugs will be more available and accessible everywhere. This, in turn, could trigger accelerated changes in drug use patterns and have public health implications, according to the Report.

The drug market recovers and moves

The new report points out that drug markets quickly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the pandemic; an explosion that triggered or accelerated certain pre-existing trafficking dynamics across the global drug market. These include: increasing shipments of illicit drugs, an increase in the frequency of land and river routes used for trafficking, greater use of private aircraft for drug trafficking purposes, and an increase in the use of contactless systems for the delivery of drugs to end users.

The resilience of drug markets during the pandemic has once again demonstrated the ability of traffickers to adapt quickly to different environments and circumstances.

The Report also points out that cocaine supply chains to Europe are diversifying, driving down prices and raising quality, thereby threatening Europe with further expansion of the cocaine market. This will likely amplify the potential harm caused by the drug in the region.

The number of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) emerging on the global market dropped from 163 in 2013 to 71 in 2019. This reflects trends in North America, Europe and Asia. The results suggest that national and international control systems have managed to limit the spread of NSP in high-income countries, where, a decade ago, the first psychoactive substances appeared.

Drug risks, new developments stimulated by the pandemic

COVID-19 has unleashed innovation and adaptation in drug prevention and treatment services through more flexible service delivery models. Many countries have introduced or expanded telemedicine services due to the pandemic, which for drug users means that health professionals can now provide counseling or initial assessments over the phone and use electronic systems to prescribe controlled substances.

While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully understood, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought growing economic hardship that is likely to make the cultivation of illicit drugs more attractive to fragile rural communities. The social impact of the pandemic — which causes an increase in inequality, poverty and mental health conditions, especially among already vulnerable populations — represents factors that can lead more people to use drugs.


The World Drug Report 2021 and other content are available on this link.

The World Drug Report 2021 provides a global view on the supply and demand of opioids, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances (NSP), as well as their impact on health, taking into account the possible effects of the pandemic of COVID-19.

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