Continued record illicit drug supply and increasingly agile trafficking networks are compounding intersecting global crises and challenging health services and law enforcement responses, according to the World Drug Report 2023 launched by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Monday.
New data put the global estimate of people who inject drugs in 2021 at 13.2 million, 18 percent higher than previously estimated. Globally, over 296 million people used drugs in 2021, an increase of 23 percent over the previous decade. The number of people who suffer from drug use disorders, meanwhile, has skyrocketed to 39.5 million, a 45 percent increase over 10 years.
The Report features a special chapter on drug trafficking and crimes that affect the environment in the Amazon Basin, as well as sections on clinical trials involving psychedelics and medical use of cannabis; drug use in humanitarian settings; innovations in drug treatment and other services; and drugs and conflict.
The World Drug Report 2023 also highlighted how social and economic inequalities drive – and are driven by – drug challenges; the environmental devastation and human rights abuses caused by illicit drug economies; and the rising dominance of synthetic drugs.
The demand for treating drug-related disorders remains largely unmet, according to the report, published by UN Information Service. Only one in five people suffering from drug-related disorders were in treatment for drug use in 2021, with widening disparities in access to treatment across regions.
Youth populations are the most vulnerable to using drugs and are also more severely affected by substance use disorder in several regions. In Africa, 70 percent of people in treatment are under the age of 35.
Public health, prevention, and access to treatment services must be prioritised worldwide, the report argues, or drug challenges will leave more people behind. The report further underscores the need for law enforcement responses to keep pace with agile criminal business models and the proliferation of cheap synthetic drugs that are easy to bring to market.
Reacting to the findings of the report, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said, “We are witnessing a continued rise in the number of people suffering from drug use disorders worldwide, while treatment is failing to reach all of those who need it. Meanwhile, we need to step up responses against drug trafficking rings that are exploiting conflicts and global crises to expand illicit drug cultivation and production, especially of synthetic drugs, fueling illicit markets and causing greater harm to people and communities.”
The report was released on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or World Drug Day, which is marked on 26th June every year to strengthen action and cooperation in achieving a world free of drug abuse. The aim of this year’s campaign is to raise awareness about the importance of treating people who use drugs with respect and empathy; providing evidence-based, voluntary services for all; offering alternatives to punishment; prioritising prevention; and leading with compassion. The campaign also aims to combat stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs by promoting language and attitudes that are respectful and non-judgmental.
This year’s theme is ‘’People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention”.
In his message on the Day, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, called on the global community to continue work to end drug abuse, illicit trafficking, and the stigma endured by drug users around the world.
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