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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports while drug use is stabilizing in industrialized countries, it is increasing in developing nations around the health and security of a nation than drug use in developed countries. Poor nations may not be able to handle drug abuse because of their underdeveloped boarders.

There has been a growth of heroine use in Eastern Africa and cocaine use in West and South Africa.  South East Asian and the Middle East are experiencing increased production and use of synthetic drugs (synthetic drugs include synthetic marijuana, MDMA, and “bath salts”.)

The Economist reports that Afghanistan is the heart of a multi-billion-dollar drug network smuggling heroine.  Tajikistan, part of the former Soviet Union, borders countries economy.  The majority of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day and often do not have power to heat their houses in the winter. However, the capital city of Dushanbe is full of mansions and flashy cars, signs that the city is profiting from the drug trade.

If is hard to find data on illicit drug use in developing countries but the use of opiates (heroine, opium, morphine) is likely to be the highest in Eastern Europe and Central, South and South East Asia where the drug is produced. Most opiate users, 7.8 million, live in and around Afghanistan and Myanmar, both major opiate-producing countries.

The World Health Organization reports that alcohol abuse and tobacco use have also risen dramatically in Eastern Europe and South and Southeast Asia. Research on the social and environmental causes of substance abuse has been lower than in the developed world but early research and case studies point to urbanization, poverty, migration, technological change, and interest in drug production as contributing factors.

Historically imprisonment has been the most common solution to illicit drug use and addiction. However research shows that imprisoning drug users is not very effective. The medicalization of drug use and the medical and therapeutic treatment of drug use is much more effective. Unfortunately developing countries face many barriers when implementing the medical treatment of drug addiction. Developing countries do not have the financial recourses or health infrastructure to provide programs like harm reduction initiatives (clean needles, needle drop off sites), drug residential rehab programs, or oral methadone.  There is also a moral view of drug use held by many people in poor countries that drug addiction is a personal choice and people should assume responsibility for it. These countries are more likely to take punitive action in dealing with drug use rather than treatment or harm reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: World Health Organization, Elements Behavioral Health, The Economist, The White House

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