4 March 2014 Investment in prevention and treatment of drug abuse can lead to significant savings in health-care and crime-related costs, and alleviate the suffering of drug-dependent users and their families, the independent United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide said in a report released today.
“Every dollar spent on drug abuse prevention can save the government up to ten dollars in later costs,” the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) wrote in its annual report.
According to its findings, only one in six drug users receive the treatment he or she needs at a cost of $35 billion per year, and most commonly, to fight addictions to heroin, cannabis or cocaine.
Increasingly, prescription drug abuse – often legally obtained medication by a friend or a family member who no longer needs it or is not using it for medical purposes – is outpacing the rates for illegal drugs in some countries.
“There is an erroneous perception that prescription drugs are less susceptible to abuse than ‘illicit’ drugs,” said INCB President Raymond Yans.
Prescription drug abuse is a “serious and growing threat to public health” in North America, which the INCB says is the region with the highest drug-related mortality in the world.
One way to tackle this abuse is by addressing the root causes of excessive supply, such as so-called “doctor shopping” by visiting numerous doctors to fraudulently get prescription drugs, overprescribing medication, or filling several prescriptions simultaneously.
The report also warns of the continuing rise in use of psychoactive substances known as “legal highs” which reproduce the effect of illegal drugs but can be easily obtained over the Internet with names such as “bath salts” or “plant food.” The drugs are based on existing illegal recreation drugs with chemical structures that are modified to varying degrees to evade the drug laws. The mixtures can easily cross from “safe” to toxic, resulting in “delirium and violent behaviour.”
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to review 20 new such psychoactive substances at its next meeting in June.
The need for precursor chemicals to create some of these substances is making drugs more difficult to make. On the plus side, this lowers their supply on the market. Unfortunately, as the report confirms, traffickers are increasingly exploiting the supply chain.
Drug trafficking through Central America and the Caribbean remains a transit route for cocaine to North America and Europe, and continues to fuel high-levels of drug-related violence, according to the report. It also cites large-scale methamphetamine manufacture as a “cause for serious concern.”
There is also a potential for Africa, which recorded an overall increase in opiates trafficking, to make headway into the cocaine market, although cannabis abuse continues to be high in the continent – nearly double the average. In addition, the report authors write that seizures of heroin in East Africa make the region a hub for trafficking to Europe.
Illicit cultivation of cannabis is also increasing in Europe. INCB said it is also worried about recent developments in legalizing the drug for recreational use in Colorado and Washington states in the United States, and in Uruguay.
“When governments consider their future policies on this, the primary consideration should be the long term health and welfare of the population,” Mr. Yans said.
Some drug use decreased in South America. Coca bush cultivation is at its lowest level since 1999, down to 133,700 hectares in 2012 from 153,700 hectares the previous year.
In East and South-East Asia, the manufacture of and demand for heroin “continues to be a major concern.” The report in particular cites the increase in demand in China, where a reported 1.3 million registered opioid abusers resided in 2012.
Afghanistan, which remains the centre of illicit manufacture of heroin and a growing source of cannabis, had a record illicit opium poppy crop reaching 209,000 hectares in 2013, up 39 per cent compared with the previous year.
Oceania is the only region in which seizures of all the main types of drugs have recently increased, mostly in Australia.
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