Published: Sat, May 12, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Which drugs pose the biggest threat to public health?

Which drugs pose the biggest threat to public health?

The largest health burden from substance use was attributed to tobacco smoking and the smallest was attributable to illicit drugs.

A new report compiling data provided by the some of the most recent and reliable sources worldwide aims to answer the big question: which substances and stimulants pose the biggest threat to health and well-being on a global level?

The data were drawn mainly from the World Health Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The researchers found that, worldwide, an estimated 18 percent of people reported "heavy" alcohol use in the last month (heavy use corresponds to more than 60 grams of alcohol, or about four standard drinks, on one occasion).

The study was published online May 11 in the journal Addiction.

The World Health Organization, WHO, stated that one DALY, disability-adjusted life year, as one year lost from a healthy person's life. However, the use of illegal drugs was far less common than these other two vices, with less than one in every 20 adults admitted to using cannabis over the past year.

Even fewer people are thought to engage in amphetamine, opioid, or cocaine use.

But the United States and Canada had among the highest rates of dependence on marijuana (749 cases per 100,000 people), opioids (650 cases per 100,000) and cocaine (301 cases per 100,000), according to study co-author Robert West, of University College London, and colleagues. Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, had a high rate of amphetamine use, at 491.5 cases per 100,000 people.

The study focused on the burden of death and disease with drug use and in 2015 alone, both alcohol and tobacco use cost the world more than a billion disability-life adjusted years.

Central, Eastern and Western Europe have the highest alcohol consumption per person, and the highest rates of heavy consumption among drinkers (50.5 percent, 48 percent, and just over 42 percent, respectively), according to the report.

Higher alcohol consumption was recorded in Central, Eastern and Western Europe.

For example, some countries and regions (including Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia) have little or no data on substance use and its associated health burden, the researchers said.

Still, "Regular compilations of global data on geographic variations in prevalence of substance use and disease burden, such as this, may encourage the improvements in data and methods required to produce better future estimates", they conclude.

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