Despite Covid, Drug Usage Increased World Over 

Rise In Both Drug Supply And Demand

Around 275 million people used drugs in 2020 in an unprecedented upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is up by 22 per cent drug usage from 2010, according to 2021 World Drug Report, released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report released on Thursday pointed out that over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders apart from the increase in drug usage. The UNODC further said that cannabis potency increased by as much as four times across the world in the last 24 years. However, the percentage of adolescents who perceived the drug as harmful fell by as much as 40 per cent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms.

On the report, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said that the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health.


The theme of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking this year is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives”. She said that this emphasised the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness so that the international community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, better target efforts to prevent and treat drug use, and tackle world drug challenges.

The Report points out that the percentage of 49-THC, a main psychoactive component in cannabis, rose from around six per cent to more than 11 per cent in Europe between 2002 and 2019. It was around four per cent to 16 per cent in the United States during the same period. The 2021 World Drug Report, however, stated that the percentage of adolescents that perceived cannabis as harmful declined by 40 per cent in the US and by 25 per cent in Europe.


The UNODC in the world report mentions that the number of people using drugs increased by 22 per cent between 2010 and 2019. Based on demographic changes, the present projection stands at 11 per cent rise in the number of people who use drugs globally by 2030 and an increase of 40 per cent in Africa.

The report says that about 5.5 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years used drugs at least once in 2020. It also said that 36.3 million people (13 per cent) of the total people, who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

The World Drug Report notes that over 11 million people are estimated to inject drugs, half of whom are living with Hepatitis. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use. The UNODC points out that two pharmaceutical opioids (methadone and buprenorphine), commonly used to treat people with opioid use, are increasingly accessible over the past two decades.


Drug markets on the dark web are now worth at least 315 million dollars in annual sales. Although this is just a fraction of overall drug sales, the trend is upwards with a fourfold increase between 2011 to 2020, the report said.

Technological innovation combined with agility and adaptability of those using new platforms to sell drugs and other substances, is likely to augment a globalized market where all drugs are available everywhere.


After some disruptions during the pandemic, drug markets have rebounded. The report says that there was an increase of larger shipments of illicit drugs, frequency of overland and water way routes used for trafficking, use of private planes and an increase in the use of contactless methods to deliver drugs to end-consumers.

The report states that the resilience of drug markets during Covid 19 pandemic demonstrated once again the ability of traffickers to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances. Default

The UNODC in the report points out that the number of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) emerging on the global market fell from 163 in 2013 to 71 in 2019.


Most of the countries reported a rise in the use of cannabis during Covid 19 pandemic. The report says that 42 per cent of the surveys of health professionals in 77 countries asserted that cannabis use increased. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs was observed in the same period.

The real impact of Covid 19 on drug usage is yet to be analysed the world over. However, the report says that the pandemic brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities. Rise in poverty, inequality and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations are the likely factors that could trigger more people into drug use.
  • Roughly 200 million people used cannabis in 2019 representing 4 per cent of the global population The highest usage is in North America (14.5 per cent) and lowest in Asia (2 per cent).
  • The number of cannabis users increased by nearly 18 per cent over the past decade
  • No data available on the global illicit cultivation of cannabis but information suggests an overall expansion between 2010-2019.
  • Between 2009-2019, quantities seized fell by 35 per cent, largely because of dramatic declines in North America partly linked to legalization of non-medical cannabis in some jurisdictions.
  • Excluding North American data, global seizures were 36 per cent higher in 2019 than in 2009
  • An estimated 20 million people used cocaine in 2019, corresponding to 0.4 per cent of the global population
  • The prevalence rate of use highest in Oceania (2.7 per cent), mainly reflecting the situation in the sub-region Australia and New Zealand, and the lowest in Asia (0.07 per cent)
  • Global prevalence rates remained stable over the past decade, while the number of people using the drug increased 22 per cent largely owing to population growth
  • Global manufacture doubled in output between 2014 and 2019 to reach an estimated 1,784 tons, the highest level
  • Around 62 million people used opioids for non-medical purposes in 2019, corresponding to 1.2 per cent of the global population
  • North America (3.6 per cent) has the highest prevalence, Europe the lowest (0.8 per cent)
  • The number of users worldwide nearly doubled over the past decade, with the increase in the last few years mainly driven by new estimates in Asia and Africa


  • An estimated 27 million people used amphetamine type stimulants in 2019, corresponding to 0.5 per cent of the global population
  • The figure was highest in North America (2.3 per cent) and lowest in Africa (0.4 per cent),
  • Declines seen in the use of NPS in North America and in Europe, but NPS use continues among some marginalized population groups.
  • Use of NPS appears to be rapidly emerging in some low- and middle-income countries.



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