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Fewer than one in five get treatment for drug problems, U.N. says

June 26, 2012 |  1:22 pm

Drugs

To help every person on the globe struggling with drugs, more than $200 billion would be needed -- far more than the world actually spends, the United Nations said Tuesday in a new report.

That shortfall, along with stigma against drug users and other barriers, has stopped many people from getting the help they need. There are estimated to be roughly 27 million "problem drug users" worldwide -- one out of every 200 people. One out of 100 adult deaths is tied to illegal drug use.

Yet the world has not delivered the help they need, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime found. Fewer than one of every five people who need treatment get it, according to its report, released as countries mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking worldwide.

Echoing its findings, the World Health Organization released new data Tuesday on the resources that 147 countries devote to drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, finding many countries lacking. For instance, only 45% of the assessed countries were able to treat heroin dependence. Even fewer have methadone or similar drugs to prevent cravings as patients are weaned off opiates.

The numbers "illustrate the huge gaps that still exist in the area of drug-dependence treatment," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of its mental health and substance abuse department.

The burden of handling health problems tied to drug use is expected to worsen in poorer countries. Although drug abuse tends to be a bigger problem in wealthier Western countries, it has been slowly spreading to developing countries, a side effect of globalization and urbanization.

Cocaine use, for instance, has been dropping in North America, where it was once particularly high, but rising in South America and Africa, along with Western Europe, the U.N. found. Heroin use has been steady or declining in Western Europe, but on the rise in Africa, southwest Asia and Eastern Europe.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Indian Border Security Force troops in Khasa wait to take part in a cycle race as part of an awareness campaign for International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Credit: Narinder Nanu / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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