Within reason, there’s generally nothing wrong with a bit of recreational legal drug use. Most of us are not adverse to consumption of drugs on an almost daily basis. Caffeine – in our tea, coffee and most carbonated drinks – is on the very socially acceptable end of the spectrum, and alcohol and nicotine are widely accepted too. Humans are ravenous consumers of these types of mind-altering substances; an estimated 120,000 tons of caffeine is consumed worldwide each year. Habitual consumption of such legal and socially acceptable drugs is an ordinary part of most of our existences and it seems strange to think of everyday life without them.
Usually, the consumption of these drugs remains relatively unproblematic. However, there is of course a darker side to the use of mind-altering substances, which manifests itself in addictions to particularly harmful substances. The best-known of these more dangerous drugs are cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin. The 2012 World Drugs report shows that 230 million people worldwide had taken illegal drugs in the preceding year – a somewhat concerning one in every twenty. The same report indicates that ‘problem drug users’, a category which consists mainly of heroin and cocaine abusers, number around 27 million. That amounts to around 0.6% of the world’s population, or one in every two hundred.
Given humans’ predisposition to the use of mood-enhances substances, and considering how addictive these dangerous drugs are, it’s unfortunately unsurprising that drug addiction and abuse is a problem across all cultures, nations and demographics. However, different drugs are varyingly popular among countries, with contributing factors like availability, cost and cultural usage among the factors which determine a country’s illicit drug of choice. The following list looks at 10 of the world’s countries which face the biggest drugs problem and the prevalence of some of the most problematic drugs in these countries.
10. Mexico — Meth, 3.9% per capita
Mexico’s meth addiction is one of the leading drug problems in the world. The country is infamous for its numerous and lucrative drug cartels, and is a major exporter of various drugs. There has been a recent surge in the presence of meth worldwide, with seizures of methamphetamines having increased between 2010 and 2011 alone by a staggering 73%, 61% of which were reported by the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico is a powerhouse in terms of meth production, and the number of addicts is rapidly growing in accordance with this: in 2012, a survey indicated that in excess of 360,000 of the population had used meth at least once.
9. Brazil — Oxi, 4.29% per capita
Brazil’s excessive consumption of oxi is at number nine. Not yet as ‘mainstream’ a drug as heroin or cocaine, oxi comprises a mixture of cocaine paste, gasoline, calcium oxide and kerosene that is both highly hallucinogenic and highly addictive. The drug’s name comes from the shortening of ‘oxidado’, or ‘rust’, and its popularity in Brazil has ostensibly stemmed from its being both cheaper and more powerful than cocaine. Given its highly addictive nature, those addicted to oxi frequently end up in dire straits, more often than going to extremes to get more of the drug,which only provides a brief high. Given that the main production point for oxi is Brazil, it seems sadly unlikely that the epidemic of oxi will wane any time in the near future.
8. United States — prescription pills, 6.2% per capita
Almost 7 in 10 of Americans have been found to be on at least one prescription pill, with more than half on two different drugs. Predominantly, the pills were for chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart problems, with the second most-prescribed being antidepressants, and the third most common being opioids. The prevalence of each drug unsurprisingly depended on the age bracket of the consumer — the less worrying vaccines and anti-asthma drugs are found to be common amongst the under-nineteens, for example, while cardiovascular drugs are usually prescribed to the elderly. The consumption of prescription drugs in the US is escalating: the percentage of the population taking a drug of this kind has escalated from 44% to 48% within the space of several years, and looks set to continue to rise.
7. Canada — Marijuana, 6.4% per capita
At number seven is Canada’s addiction to the relatively innocuous drug, cannabis. Pot use is widespread in the country, with British Columbia alone reporting 44.3% of its population as having used cannabis at least once. It must be noted, however, that use of pot has decreased significantly over the last decade, with the 2004 statistic of 44.5% of Canadians having used pot coming down to 39.4% by 2011. However, the age of initiation to the drug has remained almost exactly the same – a concerning average of around fifteen years old. In a controversial move, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition has recommended decriminalization of the individual use of cannabis and other drugs as a method of tackling drug abuse; perhaps not a viable option, but with roughly 22,3000 regular users of pot in the country, any move towards a solution should be considered.
6. Afghanistan — heroin, 6.9% per capita
At number six is one of the most infamous drugs, heroin, with which Afghanistan has a huge problem. The country is the world’s largest producer of poppy opium, from which the drug is made. Surveys conducted between 2009 and 2012 have shown that at least 350,000 Afghans are addicted to heroin, which is an astounding increase of 75% since 2005. Another upsetting statistic indicates that up to 50% of opium-using parents also give the drug to their children. An estimated one million Afghans are addicted to heroin, which amounts to about 8% of the overall population. The extent of the country’s addiction is blamed on Afghanistan’s exposition to cheap narcotics, limited access to treatment, and many years of exposure to war and resulting trauma.
5. Russia — alcohol, 7.1% per capita
Although the association of Russia with excessive consumption of alcohol, particularly vodka, is a well-worn stereotype, recent research suggests that there may unfortunately be hard truth behind the cliche. It has been confirmed that Russian adults have an unusually high rate of premature death, and it has long been suspected that there is a correlation between this and the country’s consumption of alcohol. Most of the 25% of Russian men who don’t reach the age of fifty-five die from alcohol-related causes: liver disease, alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-influenced accidents, violence or even suicide. Researcher Prof. David Zaridze has said of the Russian drinking problem that “They binge drink. That’s the main problem […] This is the nation’s lifestyle that needs to change.”
4. Slovakia — inhalants, 13.01% per capita
The misuse of inhalants in Slovakia is at number four, with a surprisingly large number of abusers of this drug evident in the country, notably higher than the general average worldwide. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but one study suggests that easy access to toluene – a clear, colourless substance like paint thinner – is instrumental in Slovakia’s high instance of solvent abuse. Worryingly, a significant number of recorded deaths as a result of inhalant abuse tend to occur in first time users, making even casual use of this type of drug an enormous danger.
3. France — Prescription pills, 13.2% per capita
The misuse of prescription pills is back in at number three, this time in France. This European country’s prescription drug use is higher, per capita, than in the US. This is likely due to the price of such drugs relative to each country. A vial of a particular medication costs around $133 in the US, and only the equivalent of $57 in France, while a specific pill costing $5 in France sells for around $22 in America. Abuse of prescription drugs in France includes predominantly that of substances containing benzodiazepines, buprenorphine and methadone.
2. U.K. — Alcohol, 13.65% per capita
Not for nothing is the UK stereotyped as a binge drinking country, as is clear in its place at number two on the list. Great Britain’s addiction to drinking is both widely realised and widely accepted, but it’s neither healthy nor innocuous. It’s hardly surprising, though, given the fact that alcohol is 45% more affordable in the UK now than it was in 1980.
An estimated 1.6 million people in England alone are dependant on alcohol, and only 6.4% of these will access treatment. Like Russia, the manner in which alcohol is consumed is the main problem in the UK, with a shocking 52% of men and 53% of women living in Great Britain drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol on at least one occasion during the average week. The ‘binge drinking’ culture is an issue that needs to be addressed before the nation will see any significant change.
1. Iran — Heroin, 14.32% per capita
Iran’s problem with heroin is an epidemic of epic proportions. Sadly, there is little the country can do about it, given the tiny amount of money allotted to Iran for tackling drug abuse — the budget for the UN drug office in the country has amounted to just over $13 million over the space of four years. However, heroin has become more difficult to access in Iran in recent years. Better Iranian border control has greatly reduced ease of trafficking but, evidently, the country clearly still has a long way to go.