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New data available on worldwide drug use and its costs in lives and productivity

Last week, researchers published the first global analysis of the trends and costs of illicit drug use around the world.

Using the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010, the group measured years of life lived with disability (YLDs), years of life lost (YLLs), and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) that could be attributed to drug use. The researchers looked for the impact that could be attributed to opioids (like heroin, morphine, hydrocodone), amphetamines, cannabis and cocaine

Here’s some of what they found:

Worldwide, more people were dependent on opioids and amphetamines than other drugs, and opioids alone were linked to 55 percent of drug-related deaths.

Illicit drug dependence directly accounted for 20 million DALYs worldwide. That means there were 20 million years of human life lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Opioids were responsible for 9.2 million of those DALYs.

In 1990, drug use accounted for 13.1 million DALYs. Population growth accounted for more than half the increase, but an increasing prevalence of drug use was responsible for a significant portion of the growth as well.

Countries with higher incomes (the US, the UK, Australia and Russia specifically) were found to have a higher burden of DALYs than others, with more than 650 per 100,000 people. The impact in those countries was as much as 20 times the impact in countries on the other end of the scale, including much of west Africa.

Men in their 20s were the most likely to be dependent on any of the drugs. Men account for 64 percent of DALYs lost to both cannabis and amphetamines and 70 percent each for opioids and cocaine.

The study showed regional differences in drug use and dependence:

In high-income North America, the drugs of choice were cannabis (1.8 million estimated dependent people, or 13.4% of worldwide cases) and cocaine (1.6 million estimated dependent persons, or 23.3 percent of worldwide cases).

East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia combined for more than 9.4 million people dependent on amphetamines, more than 54 percent of cases worldwide.

That region also had the highest number of cases of dependency of opioids, with 48 percent of worldwide cases there.

The Lancet, which published the report on Aug. 29, has a great 2-minute infographic video about the data on its homepage,, including some broader information about mental health and its impact on the global disease burden. The actual report contains some interesting maps, and can be accessed by creating a free account at the journal’s website.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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