The use and abuse of drugs is a reality all over the world and a problem every nation must contend with. But the severity of the issue and ways in which countries address it can vary dramatically.
Data obtained from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveal some surprising (and sometimes obvious) snapshots of drug issues around the world.
The office published data on the number of people treated for drugs as well as the drugs treated. Drugs are grouped into the following categories:
- Solvents and inhalants
- Opioids: heroin, opium, pharmaceutical opioids
- Amphetamine-type stimulants: methamphetamine, amphetamine, ecstasy, prescription stimulants
- Tranquilizers and sedatives: benzodiazepines, barbiturates
- Hallucinogens: LSD and others
See the interactive map below to learn more about the global demand for drug treatment and other stats.
You probably didn’t expect to see New Zealand and Iran top the global list for the treatment of drug abuse. Still, both countries are known for having high rates of drug use – New Zealand for cannabis and Iran for opioids (and recently, meth). The fact that both countries treat many of their residents follows logically.
A caveat to this data: These are official U.N. figures for a topic that is difficult to measure. Actual rates could be significantly different, and countries could have different ways of counting and reporting numbers. Comparisons should be made with caution.
The Kiwi Context
The unassuming nation of New Zealand, known for its fantasy landscapes and sauvignon blancs, is also a paradise for marijuana users because the drug is so easily available. As a result, it has one of the world’s highest reported rates of cannabis use, according to The New Zealand Herald.
The 2014 U.N. World Drug Report put the country at No. 3 in cannabis use (14.6 percent of adults used marijuana in 2007, the latest year available), just behind Iceland (18.3 percent in 2012, also the latest year available), and nearly tied with the United States (14.8 percent in 2012).
But the nation, consistently ranked at the top of global well-being indexes, is aggressively addressing the issue. Several treatment resources are available for those who wish to quit. A simple Google search with the terms “cannabis” and “New Zealand” returns myriad resource websites. The nation spends $120 million NZD a year to treat drug addictions, about $27 NZD (approximately $19 USD) per person. The United States, for comparison, earmarked $9.2 billion in 2013 for drug addiction treatment; that’s close to $29 per person.
Drug abuse can exact a heavy financial burden on both the user and on a nation as a whole. Countries around the world continue to incorporate addiction treatment advances and widen the availability of substance treatment programs with the simultaneous benefits of minimizing the larger costs to society, and promote the health and well-being of all in need. Recovery Brands supports the efforts of the global community in enhancing the effectiveness and availability of recovery options for those in need.
The Persian Problem
Iran has the second-highest rate of treatment but for quite different reasons. It sits next to Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of opium, and serves as a major trafficking route. Much of that heroin stays in the country.
The result: It has one of the highest proportions of drug addicts in the world, according to several reports. Official figures put the number of addicts at 1–3 percent of the population, and some 1.3 million people are in treatment programs.
But heroin from Afghanistan is only part of the problem. Methamphetamines are gaining ground, and for a devious reason: It’s being peddled to women at salons with the promise it will keep them thin.
A Planet of Opioids
The map above shows the demand for the treatment of drugs in general categories, like opioids and amphetamines. But in some cases, countries also reported the treatment demand for specific drugs, like heroin, opium, and ecstasy. Most of the world is bathed in dark opioid blue, mainly due to powerfully addictive heroin. Some opiates, including heroin, are derivatives or chemical cousins of the morphine molecule found in the opium poppy. That being said, few countries reported the demand for treatment for opium itself, but it is generally low (except for India, where 20 percent of all cases are for opium treatment).
Light-blue cocaine dominates treatments in South American nations, many of which are large producers. Interestingly, Colombia, the largest source of coke, reported that most of its drug treatments are for cannabis.
Cannabis was also the most treated drug in several African nations, Canada, Mexico, and the antipodean countries.
Sweden, Central Europe, the Gulf, Southeast Asia, and Japan, with South Korea, represent a few pockets where amphetamine-type stimulants, such as meth, ecstasy, and prescription stimulants, are the primary drug for treatment. In most of these places, meth is the top culprit (in Laos, it’s almost 99 percent of all treatments). But in Sweden, amphetamines top treatment demand, as it’s a popular drug in the party circuit.
As for sedatives such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, only two countries stand out: Mongolia and Namibia. And if you squint hard enough at the map (or zoom in), you’ll see that tiny Eritrea treats people for the abuse of solvents and inhalants the most.
Deaths by Overdose: An Underreported Problem
The third selection item on the map shows the number of drug overdoses in each country on the year it was measured (the time frame varies widely – from 2003 in some countries to 2013 in others).
While Iceland and the U.S. top the world in numbers, the more glaring takeaway is how poorly this information is reported worldwide. It’s mostly a concern of wealthier northern nations. Data are missing for all African countries and most Asian and South American nations.
With abuse of opiates and sedatives always comes the grave possibility of overdose and, in some cases, death. Poor reporting might reflect a lack of toxicology screening upon presentation in emergency rooms to identify precise substances involved, but make no mistake: overdose situations exist across the board for any number of the aforementioned drugs. At Recovery Brands, we feel that education about the inherent dangers of drug abuse coupled with an increase in access to treatment services can go a long way to prevent tragic outcomes for the citizenry of any country.
Marijuana: The World’s Favorite Drug
Although opioids are the most treated drug in the world, they are not the most consumed. With only a few exceptions, marijuana is every country’s top drug by the proportion of users.
Only in El Salvador and Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines do people prefer amphetamine-type stimulants to weed.
The UNODC breaks down the percentage of countries’ populations that use different drugs. The drugs are grouped into the following categories:
- Amphetamine-type stimulants
- Prescription opioids
- Prescription stimulants
Here are the top countries that use, sorted by drug type, for the latest years available.
How is Treatment Related to the Justice System?
We crossed the treatment demand data with other stats on countries’ justice systems, such as incarceration rates, conviction rates, and the proportion of prisoners whose main offense was drug-related.
We found a slight correlation between demand for treatments and the proportion of prisoners serving time for drug crimes.
When the outliers of New Zealand, Iceland, and Australia are excluded, the relationship is clearer.
A possible explanation is that countries with high drug use jail offenders and treat drug abusers with similar measures.
Overcoming Drug Addiction
Drug addiction can be managed and minimized. New Zealand and Iran are spearheading the fight with their high rates of treatment, whereas other countries are combating rising drug-related offenses with incarceration.
The U.S. fights drug abuse with a mix of both, as part of its long-running War on Drugs. And the rate of prisoners who used drugs prior to committing a crime is high: up to 70 percent, according to the most recent 2004 survey by the Department of Justice. And as of 2013, only 16 percent of prisoners were incarcerated for a drug-related crime.
But treatments are also widely available. There are no less than 14,500 drug treatment facilities in the country, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many offering multiple approaches to address various types of addiction and substance use disorders.
About Recovery Brands
Recovery Brands seeks to help those whose lives are adversely affected by addiction – including drug, alcohol, behavioral addiction – as well as by eating disorders and other mental health issues. Thousands are helped by recovery programs on a daily basis, but many more do not receive the treatment attention they need. Recovery Brands strives to connect those struggling with addiction, mental and behavioral issues with the resources that enable them make informed decisions about their care, and that ultimately place them on the road towards lasting recovery.
We obtained drug treatment and usage data from the UNODC to find the most treated and used drugs, the demand for treatment, and the overdose mortality rates for each country.
These data were then crossed with international justice stats from the UNODC and other sources.
Some of the data are inconsistent among countries (some countries only report figures for a few drugs, if any), so any comparisons cannot be deemed definitive.
Feel free to share the images found on this page freely. When doing so, please attribute the authors by providing a link back to this page, so your readers can learn more about this project and the related research.