Lack of data also means there are no estimates of the extent of use, or the health effects, of Ecstasy; hallucinogenic drugs; inhalants; or non-medical use of benzodiazepines such as valium or anabolic steroids.
The study, published Jan. 6, is the first in an addiction series appearing in The Lancet.
The toll on human health from illicit drug use is enormous. According to the investigators, the most recent (2004) data from the World Health Organization suggest that illicit drugs caused 250,000 deaths that year, compared with 2.25 million deaths from alcohol and 5.1 million deaths due to tobacco.
Years of life lost because of illicit drug use were 2.1 million, compared with 1.5 million for alcohol. That's likely because drug deaths generally affect younger people while deaths from alcohol (and tobacco) tend to affect middle-aged and elderly people, the researchers said.
Illicit drug use also caused 13 million years lost to disability (disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs).
Wealthy nations, including the United States, are lagging in efforts to beat back the scourge of drug abuse, experts said.
"Unfortunately, the U.S. has made little progress in the prevention and treatment of drug abuse in the past decade," Parsons said. "More research is needed on effective educational and prevention programs designed to reach young people before they begin to use/abuse illicit drugs," he added.
And expert Dr. Marc Galanter said that "it is important that we call attention to very serious drug abuse problems that still exist in the United States. For example, we are seeing recent increases in abuse of painkillers in the United States, as well as the abuse of
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