Global use of deadly opioid drugs is twice as high as previously thought, a new United Nations report said Wednesday, amid a growing synthetic drug crisis in the United States.
According to the latest World Drug Report, opioids were responsible for around two-thirds of drug related deaths in 2017, with use of the highly-addictive substances continuing to grow around the world.
The United Nations estimates that up to 585,000 people could be using opioids globally, more than double the estimates in previous reports. Opioids includes both heroin and legal pain relievers.
The report highlights an “ongoing crisis” in the United States and Canada around the use of synthetic opioid drugs, which led to more than 51,000 overdoses in 2017 alone.
Globally, the number of drug users has increased to an estimated 271 million people, up 30% in just 10 years.
Yury Fedotov, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director, said that the report’s findings highlight the growing, global challenges of dealing with illegal drugs.
“(It underscores) the need for broader international cooperation to advance balanced and integrated health and criminal justice responses to supply and demand,” he said in a statement.
According to the report, the rise in the number of narcotics users is partially due to the 10% increase in the global population, as well as improved research methodology.
But there has been also increased opioid use in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, as well as higher cannabis consumption in Asia and North and South America.
US President Donald Trump has made tackling the abuse of opioids a major part of his presidency. In recent months, the Chinese government agreed to crack down on substances related to fentanyl, a particularly deadly and powerful opioid.
But the opioid crisis spans beyond the US and Canada. According to the report, countries in Africa are also facing their own opioid emergency with the synthetic drug, Tramadol, which has flooded the market in recent years.
The findings were published just a day after the UN commemoration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in New York.
At Tuesday’s conference marking the date, UN Chief António Guterres denounced the devastation that the drug crisis poses to the “health and well-being of families and communities, as well as on the security and sustainable development of nations.”
Gutteres called for states to ramp up their responses to effectively address the urgency of the crisis.
According to the report, only one in seven people with drug disorders is receiving adequate care, while effective treatments to the crisis are not widely available in many countries.