Nearly 29 million people the world over are dependent on drugs, of one form or the other. More and more people have been experimenting with drugs; nearly 250 million people (around five per cent of the adult population) between the ages of 15 and 64 used at least one drug in 2014.
Around 12 million people inject drugs, and 14 per cent of those who inject drugs are suffering from HIV.
These findings came to light during a study done by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which released its report, the World Drug Report 2016, last week. The report pays special attention to the impact of drug abuse on health as well behaviour patterns, particularly violence on women and children.
Earlier, in April 2016, the UN General Assembly had held a special session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) which resulted in a series of concrete operational recommendations. Collectively, these look to promote long-term, sustainable, development-oriented and balanced drug control policies and programmes.
“The World Drug Report 2016 provides a comprehensive overview of major developments in drug markets, trafficking routes and the health impact of drug use. It also highlights support for the comprehensive, balanced and integrated rights-based approaches that emerged from the UNGASS. Now it is up to the international community to come together to ensure that commitments adopted at the UNGASS are met,” says UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
Drug use and its health consequences
While drug-related mortality has remained stable around the world, in 2014 there were still around 207,000 deaths reported: an unacceptably high number of deaths which are preventable if adequate interventions are in place.
Despite many new psychoactive substances (NPS) in vogue, Heroin still rules the roost. This can be explained from the fact that use of Heroin and the number of deaths due to its overdose increased sharply in the last two years in North America and Western and Central Europe. NPS are drugs that are illegally made and specially designed to imitate established illegal drugs such a cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and LSD.
Cannabis, the Report says, remains the most commonly used drug at the global level, with an estimated 183 million people having used it in 2014. Once reason for this is a greater acceptance Cannabis has in the society, particularly in the West.
While gender is not a factor that determines drug use, opportunity and availability of a drug certainly is. This explains why more men than women use cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines while women are more into non-medical use of opioids and tranquilisers.
Further, despite the fact that more men use drugs than women, the impact of drug use is greater on women than it is on men. This is because women tend to lack access to the continuum of care for drug use dependence. Moreover, within the family context, female partners and children of men using drugs are more likely to be the victims of drug-related violence.
In terms of social status, the poor are affected more. The brunt of the drug use problem is borne by people who are poor in relation to the societies in which they live, says the report.
New Psychoactive Substances
The report says the use and production of NPS has increased every consecutive year. In India, anywhere between 2 and 25 such drugs were reported between 2008 and 2015. In US, Canada, and Russia, however, the number of such drugs is anywhere between 101 and 274. Australia comes a close second with 51-100 such drugs followed by China and North America where the numbers are between 25 and 50.
Drug use in prison
There is a high level of drug use in prisons, including the use of opiates and injecting drugs. This in turn means that prisons are a high-risk environment for infectious diseases, and the prevalence of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis is substantially higher among persons held in prison as compared to those outside. Further, even those who have recently come out of prison are more vulnerable to risk of death from an overdose of drugs.
In Indian Context
Providing an insight into the effect of drug abuse in India, the report sheds light on the spread of HIV epidemic among the general population not only through infected syringes but also through heterosexual contact, from predominantly male consumers of drugs to their spouses and other sexual partners due to lack of protected intercourse using, for example, a condom.
The report also says that that there is an indirect relation between drug use and sexual behaviour of people.
It has been hypothesized that the use of certain drugs increases or decreases sexual desire and levels of sexual activity and has a dis-inhibiting effect, making users less likely to engage in safer sex, thus exacerbating the negative health impact of drug use, the report says. The most common stimulants associated with high risk sexual behaviour and HIV transmission are cocaine and ATS.
The other worrying effect of drug use by men in India is the impact it has on the women of the family. The female partners of drug users also face high domestic violence but rarely seek help. UNODC documented that out of a sample of 179 women in India, 43 % reported physical violence by a male family member using drugs while 53 % reported verbal aggression.
The report further projects women consuming drugs are also at a higher risk of getting abused by their partners or law enforcement personnel.