Center of Excellence for Reducing the Supply of Illicit Drugs

UNODC World Drug Report 2022 highlights current trends in illicit drug markets, drug impacts on the environment and data on drug use by women and youth

Vienna, June 27, 2022 – Legalization of cannabis in some parts of the world tends to indicate increased use and health-related impacts, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2022. Released on Monday, the report also features a record increase in cocaine manufacturing, expansion of synthetic drugs into new markets and continuing gaps in the availability of drug treatments, especially for women.

According to the report, around 284 million people – aged between 15 and 64 – used drugs in 2020, 26% more than ten years earlier. Young people are using more drugs, with levels of use in many countries higher than the previous generation. In Africa and Latin America, people under the age of 35 account for the majority of people being treated for disorders associated with drug use.

Globally, the report estimated that 11,2 million people worldwide were injecting drugs. About half of this number were living with hepatitis C, 1,4 million were living with HIV, and 1,2 million were living with both.

Commenting on these findings, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said: “Manufacturing and seizure numbers for many illicit drugs are reaching record levels, even as global emergencies are deepening vulnerabilities. At the same time, misperceptions about the magnitude of the problem and the associated harm are depriving people of care and treatment and driving young people into harmful behavior. We need to devote the resources and attention needed to address all aspects of the global drug problem, including providing evidence-based care to all who need it, and we need to improve the knowledge base on the relationship of illicit drugs to other pressing challenges, such as conflict and environmental degradation”.

The report also emphasizes the importance of mobilizing the international community, governments, civil society and stakeholders to take urgent action to protect people, including strengthening drug prevention and treatment through the provision of illicit drugs.

Initial indications and effects of cannabis legalization

The legalization of cannabis in North America appears to have led to an increase in daily use of the substance, particularly of more potent products and particularly among young adults. Increases related to people with psychiatric disorders, suicides and hospitalizations have also been reported. Legalization also increased tax revenue and generally reduced prison rates for possession of the substance.

Continued increase in drug production and trafficking

Cocaine production has set a new record, growing 11% over 2019, reaching 1.982 tonnes in 2020. Cocaine seizures have also increased despite the Covid-19 pandemic, to a record 1.424 tonnes in 2020. Nearly 90% of cocaine seized globally in 2021 was trafficked in containers and/or by sea. The seizure data suggest that cocaine trafficking is expanding to other regions outside the main markets of North America and Europe, with increasing levels of trafficking to Africa and Asia.

Methamphetamine trafficking continues to expand geographically, with 117 countries reporting methamphetamine seizures between 2016-2020 versus 84 in 2006-2010. At the same time, the amounts of methamphetamine seized quintupled between 2010 and 2020.

World opium production grew by 7% between 2020 and 2021 to 7.930 tonnes – predominantly due to an increase in production in Afghanistan; however, in the same period, the world's opium poppy area fell by 16% to 246.800 hectares.

Top drug trends broken down by region

In many countries in Africa and South and Central America, the majority of people receiving treatment for drug use disorders are receiving treatment primarily for cannabis use disorders. In Eastern and Southeastern Europe and Central Asia, people are most often being treated for disorders associated with the use of opioids.

In the United States and Canada, overdose deaths, predominantly caused by an epidemic of non-medical fentanyl use, continue to hit records. Preliminary estimates in the United States point to more than 107 drug overdose deaths in 2021, up from nearly 92 in 2020.

In the two largest methamphetamine markets, apprehensions have been on the rise – up 7% in North America year over year, while in Southeast Asia they are up 30% year over year, up in both regions. A 50% increase in 2020 over 2019 in methamphetamine seizures in Southeast Asia was also reported. A major inequity remains in the availability of pharmaceutical opioids for medical consumption purposes. In 2020, there were 7.500 more doses per 1 million people of pain management drugs in North America than in West and Central Africa.

Conflict zones as magnets for the production of synthetic drugs

This year's report also highlights that illicit drug economies can flourish in conflict situations and where the rule of law is weak, which in turn can prolong or fuel conflict.

Information from the Middle East and Southeast Asia tends to indicate that conflict situations can act as a magnet for the manufacture of synthetic drugs, which, in fact, can be produced anywhere. A consequence that can be even more important when the conflict zone is close to consumer markets.

Historically, parties to conflict have used drugs to finance conflict and generate income. The World Drug Report 2022 reveals that conflicts can also disrupt and change drug trafficking routes, as has happened in the Balkan region and, more recently, in Ukraine.

Possible growth in amphetamine production capacity in Ukraine could be expanded if conflict persists

There has been a significant increase in the number of amphetamine laboratories in Ukraine. A total of 79 were deactivated in 2020, compared to 17 the year before. 67 of those labs were producing amphetamines, compared with five in 2019 – the highest number of labs shut down reported in a given country in 2020.

The environmental impacts of drug markets

According to the document, illicit drug markets can have local, community or individual impacts on the environment. The main findings point out that the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation is on average 16 to 100 times higher than that of outdoor cannabis cultivation and that the emission of 1 kg of cocaine is 30 times higher than that of cocoa beans.

Other environmental impacts point to substantial deforestation associated with illegal coca cultivation, waste generated during the manufacture of synthetic drugs that can be 5-30 times the volume of the final product, and the dumping of waste that can directly affect soil, water and the air, as well as organisms, animals and the food chain indirectly.

Continuing gap in gender treatment and disparities in drug use and treatment

Women remain the minority of drug users worldwide, but they tend to increase their rate of drug use and progress more rapidly than men with regard to drug use disorders. Women currently account for about 45-49% of amphetamine users and non-medical users of pharmaceutical stimulants, pharmaceutical opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers.

The treatment gap remains large for women around the world. While women account for nearly one in two amphetamine users, they represent only one in five people being treated for disorders associated with amphetamine use.

The World Drug Report 2022 also highlights the wide range of roles women play in the global cocaine economy, including growing coca, transporting small amounts of drugs, selling to consumers and smuggling them into prisons.


The World Drug Report and additional content is available here: 

The World Drug Report 2022 provides a global view of the supply and demand for opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impact on health.

For more information access: World Drug Report 2022 homepage

Source: UNODC

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