The World Drug Report 2021: A Critical Assessment of Projected Increases in African Drug Use - May 2022.
As in previous years, the 2021 World Drug Report, published by the UNODC provides a comprehensive analysis of different aspects of what is referred to as the ‘world drug problem’. In some ways, building on the 2019 Report, the Report deems the impact of COVID-19 on drug markets, which it says will be felt for a while, as an issue worthy of special attention. Following the overall summary provided in Booklet 1, Booklet 2 offers an ‘overview of the global demand for and supply of drugs’.
This includes the extent of drug use and its health impacts, trends in ‘drug use disorders’, drug treatment demand, and, on the supply side, the extent of illicit crop cultivation and trends in drug production and trafficking, including over the internet. Booklet 3 provides an overview of the cannabis and opioids markets, including an intriguing highlight on the concomitance of increase in the potency of cannabis and low perception of risk among adolescents. Booklet 4 then provides an analysis of the cocaine and Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) markets, including their manufacture and trafficking at global and regional levels.
After roughly two years of grappling with the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, it is now possible to undertake at least an initial assessment of its impact on drug markets. Booklet 5, therefore, offers an analysis of the impact of the pandemic on drug production, trafficking, retail distribution, and drug supply on the internet. It highlights the resilience of drug markets and how they have recovered from the impacts of the pandemic as well as the implications of containment measures on the patterns and health effects of drug use, particularly cannabis and sedatives.
The Booklet also offers insight into the provision and uptake of drug prevention and treatment services during the pandemic as well as innovations in service delivery spurred by COVID-19. These include the use of telemedicine, dispensing of sterile injecting equipment and opioid agonist medication via vending machines, and the provision of take-home doses covering extended periods. These innovations added a positive twist to a sombre analysis.
An interesting feature of the 2021 Report, is the ‘Special Points of Interest’ section within Booklet 1. Among a range of issues given prominence in this section is drug use in Africa, specifically the findings that – simply because of demographic changes – the number of people who use drugs in the region is projected to rise by an astonishing 40% by 2030. As is afforded top-line billing in Booklet 1 and unpacked in more detail elsewhere, particularly in Booklet 2, this equates to a projected increase in the estimated number of people (age 15-64) who use drugs in Africa from 60 million in 2018 to a staggering 86 million.
The UNODC explains that ‘Although a rise in people who use drugs is predicted across the world, it is likely to be particularly pronounced in Africa because the population is younger, and drug use is higher among young people than old people’. ‘Moreover’, it continues, ‘the population of Africa is projected to grow more quickly than that of other regions’; a projection influenced, among other things, by its low-income status and related upward trends in urbanisation. Here, in exploring the UNODC’s analysis of trends of drug use in Africa, we focus on the uncertainty surrounding the data upon which projections are based and the related policy implications.
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