Illicit Drug Use Rising Around the World

two people using drugs

In their annual anti-drug agency report released last week, the UN published its findings which predict a global increase in illegal drug use of 25% in the next four decades. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) also made further projections on worldwide drug manufacturing and trafficking, and findings reflect that developing countries will continue to bear a large portion of the substance abuse burden.

UNDOC Findings Project Global Trends

Reflecting on some of the keynotes of the UNDOCÕs annual report on illegal substance trends, we are given a snapshot of the global substance abuse problem:

  • The UN predicts approximately 230 million people have consumed illegal drugs (one or more times) since 2010.
  • Nearly 30 million people worldwide are considered problem drug users, and 200,000 people die from substance abuse annually.
  • According to the UNDOC, there are somewhere between 120-220 million marijuana users in the world, making it the most popularly consumed illegal drug in the world.
  • Amphetamines (stimulant drugs) like cocaine, meth, and stimulant prescriptions are the second most popularly abused drug worldwide.

Youth Drug Trends in the US

It seems every nation shares some common denominators in substance abuse trends, but across the globe, we find that each country possesses its own specific burdens, challenges and ‘fads.’

The US is no exception to this. American youth today face some very dangerous substances which trend throughout communities small and large, and high schools both public and private, showing no signs of discrimination or being selective.

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic marijuana (also called K2 or Spice) and Bath Salts (a synthetic methamphetamine-LSD-ecstasy hybrid, also called Ivory Wave) took American youth by storm when they first became popular a few years ago. These life-threatening substances are considered highly dangerous because their chemical contents are mostly completely unknown, making their side effects and reactions wholly unpredictable.

Household Items

Most disturbingly, some teens have reportedly turned to common household items like hand sanitizer and nutmeg, for a high. Also on the watch list are cough/cold medicines, cough syrups, freon gas (from A/C units) and

Prescription Drugs

Sadly, a large number of teens who are prescribed stimulant prescriptions like Adderall and Ritalin engage in abuse of the substances or give their pills to friends and/or buyers. Adderall is comparable to cocaine and methamphetamine, both in its degree of addictiveness and the mental effects produced. The US Drug Enforcement Agency has classified these pills accordingly, based on these dangerous trends.

Global Use Expected to Increase

If illegal drug use continues to grow in the way it has been, the UNDOC projects the number of substance abusers to increase by an additional 25% by the year 2050. This amounts to approximately 65 million additional chemically dependent individuals. Further, although male drug abusers have historically outnumbered women in the arena of abuse, female abusers are expected to increase as well.

Because underdeveloped countries lack the same treatment and prevention resources, these are the populations the UN expects will be hit hardest by the projected increase of substance abuse in the coming decades.

Although the UN makes these projections, there are actions individuals and communities can take to prevent, detect and treat addiction:

  • Parents, talk to children and teens about drugs
  • Responsibly store and dispose of medications
  • Support drug education programs in local schools
  • Stay up to date on trends affecting your community
  • Watch for signs of abuse in your friends, family and loved ones, and act quickly when they manifest

These UN projections for worldwide substance abuse trends are nothing short of deadly. Learn the signs of abuse, and take care to ensure the youth in your life have preventative education early on.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.