FRIDAY, Jan. 6 (HealthDay News) -- About 200 million people worldwide use illicit drugs each year, and use is highest in wealthier nations, a new study shows.
The researchers also found that the burden of health problems caused by illicit drug use in developed countries is similar to that caused by alcohol, but much less than that caused by tobacco.
Experts in the United States weren't surprised by the numbers, and said that more needs to be done to reduce Americans' dependence on illegal drugs.
The study "serves to confirm something addiction experts have known for some time -- that the extent of illicit drug use and abuse in developed countries like the United States has reached epidemic proportions," said Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, a professor in the department of psychology at Hunter College, in New York City.
The analysis of available data from a team of Australian researchers estimates that there are up to 203 million marijuana users, anywhere from 14 million to 56 million amphetamine users, 14 million to 21 million cocaine users, and 12 million to 21 million opioid users around the world.
The researchers also estimate that there are 15 million to 39 million "problematic users" of opioids (which include prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin or Vicodin), amphetamines or cocaine, and 11 million to 21 million people who inject drugs worldwide.
Marijuana use appears to be highest in Oceania (Australia/New Zealand), with up to 15 percent of those aged 15 to 64 using the drug, according to estimates made by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Amphetamine use was also highest in Oceania (2.8 percent of this age group), while use of heroin and other opioids was highest in the Near and Middle East (up to 1.4 percent). Cocaine use was highest in North America (1.9 percent).
There is no gold-standard method for estimating the true number of illicit drug users and no one method is ideal for all drugs o
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