Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

A global high

One in 20. That’s the number of people, roughly 230 million, who used an illegal drug in 2010. While the US is still the epicentre of illicit drug consumption, experts expect the number of such drug users to increase by 25 percent by 2050, with much of the "burden of the global drug problem” shifting toward Africa and Asia, according to a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

While marijuana continues to be the most commonly used globally with an estimated 119-224 million users, heroin and cocaine remain the drugs of choice for the world’s 27 million chronic users. Looking ahead, illegal use of prescription drugs may emerge as the next problem area. Already, Washington has declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic due to deaths from painkiller misuse quadrupling since 1999.

Globally, approximately 200,000 people die from drug abuse every year. This tragic figure has refuelled the conversation of decriminalisation. The UNODC has acknowledged that enforcement policies have had "unintended consequences," such as “creating a vast criminal market, displacing the illegal drugs trade to new areas and new drugs, diverting funding from health and stigmatising users,” writes Danny Kushlick of The Guardian.

Though use of heroin and cocaine, two of the most heavily trafficked drugs, is decreasing in North America and Europe, nearly 70 percent of heroin users now live in Africa and Asia. “Developing-world citizens are young and rapidly becoming more urban,” writes John Lyons of the Wall Street Journal. “Traffickers can exploit new pockets of emerging market wealth, often with less fear of capture by weaker emerging market law enforcement institutions.” – Kate Springer