The 2018 World Drug Report, launched on 26 June by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), provides a global overview of the supply and demand of opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impact on health. Moreover, it highlights the different drug use patterns and vulnerabilities of age and gender groups and shifts in the global drug market.
- Cocaine and Opium production
This year’s World Drug Report indicates expanding drug markets, “with cocaine and opium production hitting absolute record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts” as stated by UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov. Global cocaine production in 2016 reached the highest level ever reported, with an estimated 1,410 tons being produced compared to 1,125 tons in 2015. In terms of seizures, 1,129 tons of cocaine were seized globally in 2016 marking a substantive increase compared to the reported 864 tons seized in 2015.
The main driver of cocaine’s global expansion is the increase in coca bush cultivation in Colombia, which, in 2016, came about for several reasons related to market dynamics and the strategies of trafficking organizations. The boost in coca cultivation was linked to a perceived decrease in the risk of illicit activities following the suspension of aerial spraying, the expectations of compensation for coca bush substitution, and a reduction in alternative development interventions, which has undergone a period of transition from an approach based on crop elimination to another one based on promoting the rule of law. In terms of cocaine trafficking, the route from South America to North America and Western and Central Europe remains the main one, but trafficking routes to other sub regions, such as, the Near and Middle East/South-West Asia and East and South-East Asia, are proliferating. In some countries in these sub regions, law enforcement agencies may still be unfamiliar with cocaine as they are more used to focusing on other drugs, and seizure patterns may hide significant unreported cocaine trafficking.
Africa and Asia are emerging as both cocaine trafficking and consumption hubs whereas quantities of cocaine seized in Asia tripled from 2015 to 2016; whereas in South Asia, it increased tenfold. The quantity of cocaine seized in Africa doubled in 2016, with countries in North Africa seeing a six-fold increase and accounting for 69% of all the cocaine seized in the region in 2016.
From 2016-2017, global opium production jumped 65% from 6,380 tons registered in 2016 to 10,500 tons in 2017, representing the highest estimate ever recorded by the UNODC since monitoring started. A marked increase in opium poppy cultivation and a gradual increase in opium poppy yields in Afghanistan resulted in opium production in the country reaching 9,000 tons in 2017, an increase of 87% from the previous year.
- Other findings: NPS, Tramadol and Cannabis
As reported, the global NPS market continues to be characterised by the emergence of many new substances belonging to diverse chemical groups. A growing stream of pharmaceutical preparations of unclear origin destined for non-medical use, together with poly drug use and poly drug trafficking, adds unprecedented levels of complexity to the drug problem.
The non-medical use of prescription drugs has been identified as a major threat to public health and law enforcement worldwide. As highlighted already in the 2017 World Drug Report, opioids remain the most harmful drug type, accounting for 76% of deaths where drug use disorders were implicated. Confirming the trend registered in 2016, increased availability of Tramadol – an opioid used to treat moderate-to-severe pain – has become a growing concern in parts of Africa and Asia, causing considerable harm to health. The global seizure of pharmaceutical opioids in 2016 was 87 tons, with seizures of Tramadol accounting for the majority (68 tons).
Cannabis continues to be the most widely consumed drug worldwide. UNODC estimates that roughly 3.9% of the global population aged 15–64 years used cannabis at least once in 2016 amounting to some 192.2 million people. This marks an increase compared to 183 million users registered worldwide in 2015. The global seizure of cannabis herb amounts to 4,682 tons 1% less than the seizure registered in the previous year (5,781 tons). The decline in the global quantity of cannabis herb seized may indicate a shift in the priorities of law enforcement authorities. This may be the case in North America where the availability of medical cannabis in many jurisdictions and new legal frameworks that allow the cultivation of cannabis for recreational use in some states of the United States may have played a role. On the other hand, there has been a 6% increase in the global seizure of cannabis resin which amounts to 1,631 tons in 2016 compared to 1,536 tons in 2015.
- Vulnerability of various age and gender groups
Worldwide, the number of people using drugs at least once a year remained stable in 2016 around 275 million people, or roughly 5.6 % of the global population aged 15-64 years. According to the WHO, in 2015 roughly 450,000 people died because of drug use. Of those deaths, 167,750 were directly associated with drug use disorders (mainly overdoses).
From a gender perspective, the Report confirms previous year’s trend: men tend to use drugs more often than women. However, when it comes to the use of opioids and tranquillisers, women reach levels comparable to men, if not higher. Moreover, while women typically start using substances later than men, once they have initiated, women tend to increase their rate of consumption of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and opioids more rapidly than men as well as develop drug use disorders at a faster rate. However, women continue to account for only one in five people in treatment, signalling a need for creating drug use treatments tailored to the specific needs of women.