|Drug Abuse & Demand Reduction
Drug abuse is a global phenomenon. It effects almost every country,
although its extent and characteristics differ from region to region.
Drug abuse trends around the world, especially among youth, have started
to converge over the last few decades.
The most widely consumed drug worldwide is cannabis. Three-quarters of
all countries report abuse of heroin and two-thirds report abuse of
cocaine. Drug-related problems include increased rates of crime and
violence, susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, demand for treatment
and emergency room visits and a breakdown in social behaviour.
Demand reduction strategies seek to prevent the onset of drug use, help
drug users break the habit and provide treatment through rehabilitation
and social reintegration.
At the 1998 UN General Assembly special session on the world drug
problem, Member States recognized that reducing the demand for drugs was
an essential pillar in the stepped-up global effort to fight drug abuse
and trafficking. They committed themselves to reduce significantly both
the supply of and demand for drugs by 2008, as expressed in the
Political Declaration on the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction
Drugs of Abuse: the Facts
Reliable and up-to-date information on selected drugs of abuse,
including drug histories, how they are ingested, effects on the mind and
body and medical uses, if any.
Global Assessment Programme on Drug Abuse
To reduce or eliminate drug abuse, governments and UNODC need up-to-date
statistics on who is taking drugs and why. The Global Assessment
Programme on Drug Abuse (GAP) was launched in 1998. GAP has established
one global and nine regional systems to collect reliable and
internationally comparable drug abuse data and to assess the magnitude
and patterns of drug abuse at the country, regional and global levels.
Partners in Prevention
Drug abuse cuts across age, class, ethnic and gender lines. By working
with grass-roots groups, private businesses and other community
partners, UNODC supports projects addressing the needs of specific
populations, such as street children and those trying to cope with
neglect, violence and sexual abuse. These strategies help disadvantaged
groups to avoid high-risk behaviour and settings that give rise to a
range of problems, including the use of illicit drugs and alcohol.
Access to Treatment and Rehabilitation
People with drug abuse problems have different needs. Women, the young,
the poor, refugees and ethnic and religious minorities need easier
access to early intervention and services. Once in treatment, drug
abusers may need job training and referral, assistance in finding
housing and reintegrating into society. Drug abusers who commit crimes
require alternative treatment in order to break the cycle of drug abuse
Global Youth Network
The Global Youth Network project is creating a network of participatory
youth organizations that work for drug abuse prevention. Our activities
include experience-sharing meetings, how-to guides on innovative
techniques on drug abuse prevention written for and by young people and
an active e-mail listserv. The Youth Network web site also provides an
on-line resource for groups who want to improve their projects or who
want to start new drug abuse prevention programmes.
At the end of 2002, an estimated 42 million people around the world were
living with HIV/AIDS. During the same year, five million new infections
were reported, while the epidemic claimed and estimated 3.1 million
lives. One third of the people living with HIV/AIDS are between 15 and
24 years old. Injecting drug abuse is among the major forces driving the
epidemic, attributing to around five per cent of HIV transmission.
UNODC, a cosponsor of UNAIDS since 1999, has been mainstreaming HIV/AIDS
prevention into its demand reduction activities globally, with an
emphasis on promoting skills development and helping young people live a
healthy, drug-free life. UNODC also supports prevention activities to
limit the spread of HIV/AIDS among injecting drug abusers, and through
them, to their spouses, children and the general population.
Drugs of Abuse - the Facts
What is drug abuse?
People have taken psychoactive drugs for curative, religious and
recreational purposes for hundreds of years. At the end of the last
century, however, due to advances in the field of chemistry and
pharmacology, stronger and highly addictive substances such as cocaine
and heroin were synthesized. In addition, the invention of hypodermic
syringes enabled people to inject these drugs, making their effects more
powerful and the risk of addiction more serious. Against this background
and the risk of widespread abuse, the first international controls were
instituted following the Opium Commission in Shanghai in 1909.
Over the years, various United Nations Conventions have restricted the
sale and use of different substances to medical purposes. These
conventions were amalgamated in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs. This in turn was supplemented in 1972 by a Protocol stressing the
need for treatment and rehabilitation services. In 1971 the Convention
on Psychotropic Substances established an international control system
for a list of pharmaceutical drugs and other substances that affect the
mind. For the purposes of international drug control, the term "drug
abuse" refers to the illicit, i.e. non-medical, use of any of the
substances listed in the above conventions. A 1988 Convention addressed
drug trafficking and included provisions against money laundering and
the diversion of chemicals used in the manufacture of illicit drugs
Substances of abuse
A psychoactive substance is any substance that people take to change
either the way they feel, think, or behave. This includes alcohol and
tobacco as well as natural and manufactured drugs. In the past, most
drugs were made from plants, such as the coca bush for cocaine, opium
poppies for heroin and cannabis for hashish or marijuana. Now drugs such
as Ecstasy or LSD are produced by synthesizing various chemicals. Drugs
of abuse fall into three categories: depressants (e.g. heroin,
barbiturates), stimulants (e.g. cocaine, crack, amphetamines) and
hallucinogens (e.g. marijuana, Ecstasy, LSD), and are either ingested,
inhaled, smoked, injected or snorted.
Depressants are sedatives that act on the nervous system. They provide
artificial relaxation and relief from anxiety and mental stress but tend
to produce psychological dependence; withdrawal from heavy use is
Stimulants are agents that activate, enhance, or increase activity of
the central nervous system. They include amphetamines and synthetic
appetite suppressants such as phenmetrazine or methylphenidate.
Stimulants can give rise to symptoms suggestive of intoxication,
including tachycardia, pupillary dilation, elevated blood pressure and
nausea or vomiting. They can also cause violent and aggressive
behaviour, agitation and impaired judgement. A full-blown delusional
psychosis may occur.
Hallucinogens are chemically diverse and produce profound mental changes
such as euphoria, anxiety, sensory distortion, vivid hallucinations,
delusion, paranoia and depression. They include mescaline and LSD.
Drugs can be harmful in a number of ways, both through immediate effects
and through damage to health over time. Even occasional use of marijuana
affects cognitive development and short-term memory. In addition, the
effects of marijuana on perception, reaction and coordination of
movements can result in accidents.
Hallucinogens (such as LSD) distort perceptions, alter heart-rate and
blood pressure and, in the long term, cause neurological disorders,
depressions, anxiety, visual hallucinations and flashbacks.
Cocaine and amphetamines cause tremors, headaches, hypertension and
increased heart-rate. Long-term effects include nausea, insomnia, loss
of weight, convulsions and depression.
Heroin use initially results in nausea, slow respiration, dry skin,
itching, slow speech and reflexes. Over a long period of time there is a
serious risk of developing physical and psychological dependence, which
can result in acute overdose and even death due to respiratory
There is a tendency to present some drugs (such as cannabis and Ecstasy)
as less harmful than they actually are, without taking into
consideration their long-term consequences and the effects they have on
adolescent development, particularly on the development of certain
critical functions (cognitive ability and capacity to memorize). Ecstasy
has been presented as having little or no side effects, but studies show
that its use alters, perhaps permanently, certain brain functions and
also damages the liver and other body organs.
Although not regarded as illicit, inhalants are widely abused,
especially by disadvantaged youth. Some of these volatile substances,
which are present in many products such as glue, paint, gasoline and
cleaning fluids, are directly toxic to the liver, kidney or heart, and
some produce progressive brain degeneration.
The major problem with psychoactive drugs is that when people take them,
they focus on the desired mental and emotional effects and ignore the
potentially damaging physical and mental side effects that can occur. No
illicit drug can be considered "safe". In one way or another, the use of
psychoactive substances alters the normal functioning of the human body,
and in the long run they can cause serious damage.
For more information on selected drugs of abuse, pharmacological effects
and possible medical use, see terminology and information on drugs and
consult the demand reduction glossary of terms(PDF).
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