USA! USA! USA! Gooooo USA! (we're the awesomest druggies in the world!)

i-75fa6f7cebb4145668724f37f5a52b36-steve_icon_medium.jpgAccording to a new survey the USA has highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use in the world. Thank goodness the War for Drugs is working so well! Ohh... wait... that's the war ON drugs and it's supposed to protect us from ourselves and our nasty drug habits. Well anyway.. here's the details on the study:

A survey of 17 countries has found that despite its punitive drug policies the United States has the highest levels of illegal cocaine and cannabis use. The study, by Louisa Degenhardt (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) and colleagues, is based on the World Health Organization's Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) and is published in this week's PLoS Medicine.

The authors found that 16.2% of people in the United States had used cocaine in their lifetime, a level much higher than any other country surveyed (the second highest level of cocaine use was in New Zealand, where 4.3% of people reported having used cocaine). Cannabis use was
highest in the US (42.4%), followed by New Zealand (41.9%).

In the Americas, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand, alcohol had been used by the vast majority of survey participants, compared to smaller proportions in the Middle East, Africa, and China.

The survey found differences in both legal and illegal drug use among different socioeconomic groups. For example, males were more likely than females to have used all drug types; younger adults were more likely than older adults to have used all drugs examined; and higher income was related to drug use of all kinds. Marital status was found to be related to tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine use, but not alcohol use (the never married and previously married having higher odds of lifetime cocaine and cannabis use than the currently married; tobacco use is more likely in people who have been previously married while less likely among the never married).

Drug use "does not appear to be simply related to drug policy," say the authors, "since countries with more stringent policies towards illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more liberal policies." In the Netherlands, for example, which has more liberal policies than the US, 1.9% of people reported cocaine use and 19.8% reported cannabis use.

Data on drug use were available from 54,068 survey participants in 17 countries. The 17 countries were determined by the availability of research collaborators and on funding for the survey. Trained lay interviewers carried out face-to-face interviews (except in France where the interviews were done over the telephone) using a standardized, structured diagnostic interview for psychiatric conditions and drug use. Participants were asked if they had ever used alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, or cocaine.

The study's main limitations are that only 17 countries were surveyed, within these countries there were different rates of participation, and it is unclear whether people accurately report
their drug use when interviewed. Nevertheless, the findings present comprehensive data on the patterns of drug use from national samples representing all regions of the world.

Citation: Degenhardt L, Chiu W-T, Sampson N, Kessler RC, Anthony JC, et al. (2008) Toward a global view of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine use: Findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. PLoS
Med 5(7): e141. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050141.

So the take home messages... people in the U.S. have a bunch of disposable income for drugs and we really f'n love cocaine! Although (I should really look at the article directly), it doesn't look like they check out the countries in which the cocaine was produced. I'd be curious to see a survey on a wider variety of countries.

And finally... the most important take home message: Drug Policy has NOTHING to do with drug use. We can put users, dealers, producers, cousins of uncles of friends of users, their dogs, cats, guinea pigs, or the lint under their couches in jail or to death and it will have no effect on whether people use drugs or not. Education however... just maybe that will help. Oh.. that and taxation - Heavy heavy taxation. After all tobacco use has gone drastically down in the last decade with more education and higher drug prices.

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I remember Nancy Reagan and her, "Just say no" to drugs campaign. And whatever happened to the commercial where they show a brain then a an egg frying, "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs"? Maybe that was so 1980's.

The study fails to control for the relative lunacy of each country's politics. It's the madness of American's politics that drives us to heavy use of alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine.

A cocaine-producing country was included:

"The current study presents data on basic epidemiological patterns of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine use in 17 countries participating to date in the WMH surveys [5,6]. The WMH countries include countries in which cannabis use has been strongly prohibited (the US) as well as countries in which a harm reduction policy has long been in place (the Netherlands). The survey also includes cocaine source (Colombia) and consumer (US, Europe) countries."

I agree with #, here in Santa Cruz we've put cannibis as the "lowest priority crime", meaning you pretty much can't get anything for possession (dealing to minors, driving under the influence are still rightfully illegal), and since the proposition was passed, there has been no increase in crime, and our officers have more time to police those that are doing harm to others (well I guess most police in this city are traffic cops).

The 1960s had a lot of drug use. Maybe that is why the 16% is there. I never touched any and never will. Soda for me is fine.

If they had data on Cannabis, Tobacco, and Alcohol, then they should have included the other biggie: Caffeine.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 01 Jul 2008 #permalink

Maybe they would have included caffeine had they been able to make up their minds whether caffeine is good for you or bad for you. Just how many people does caffeine kill a year when compared to tobacco, alcohol or cocaine????

I would have liked to see the results for those countries who habitually arrest American mules and throw them in jail or sentence them to death for carrying drugs. Malaysia? Indonesia? I forget. I'm sure there are countries tougher on drugs than the USofA. So how well is that working?

After many years of agreeing with the war on drugs (even while violating the law on occasion), I now believe that all drugs should be made legal and addicts should be treated as medical problems and not criminal problems. Dealers, including those cops who deal drugs in order to catch more druggies, should still be treated as criminals.

I can't believe the cannabis use rate is that low.

By (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Think how much income the government could have if it legalized drugs, and taxed the buyers and users---not to mention the money saved on trying to catch the smugglers and sellers today. If we kill the demand, the sellers would go away----so lets concentrate on the users, legitimize and tax.


Just saying "No" campaigns never accomplished anything. Education w/ VIDEO's of the effects of drugs need to be in EVERY school. At local fairs, booths with pictures and mug shots showing kids the effects of drugs need to be present. And finally, parents need to talk about drugs with their kids ..... openly.
Legalizing drugs and taxing them heavily would appear to work better than our current system; but only if the education aspect is present and remains consistently present in our schools and communities.
Tami Barker

By Tami Barker (not verified) on 14 Aug 2008 #permalink

Or... and be prepared, I am going out of the box here... we could stop trying to control individual choice! There you have it. The only control in any manner of intoxicants; should be on those that affect the ability for others to make choices. Like meth and heroin; that affect crime and safety. Cannabis should absolutely be legal, free to grow and free to share and use. Maybe the high use of intoxicants in America is due to the strong belief that Freedom is a right that we have (though be barely do.) And maybe, just maybe, if you let people chose and hold them accountable for not controlling themselves under such choices (i.e. public intoxication, driving under the influence) and utilizing a minimal tax system, only applying to one portion -commercial distribution, for public health venture's for those that fall prey to addiction or develop health issues (emphysema, etc.) you might just find that use, when freely granted, will moderate itself.

Controlling others is a detrimental attribute to human operational consciousness, closely related to our internal greed and desires. We must start thinking, believing and practicing outside the norm. New social constructions must form and new manners, in which we govern, must develop. This is vital to changing America; and individual, private, intoxicant use is one such aspect.


I hope I'm not the only one in the world sickened by the idea of the American government telling its people not to use tobacco (via taxation). Yes, it's bad for you. Should the government brandish its economic regulation powers to induce people to make the choice not to smoke? Shouldn't there be enough reason not to smoke through government education programs? Provided that education on tobacco is sufficiently distributed, is there sufficient reason for the government to brutally tax tobacco?

Also, I'm sick of anti-drug campaigns. They seem more interested in presenting their anti-drug bias than the real consequences of drug use.

Tobacco aside, I am much further disturbed by your conclusion that "Drug Policy has NOTHING to do with drug use".

Drug use is more prevalent in the US than in the Netherlands. Anti-drug laws are stronger in the US then in the Netherlands. However, I don't think that we can safely say that drug policy has no effect on drug use based on this data alone. There are other factors.

It is ridiculous to suppose that there are not individuals who don't do drugs for the very reason that they are illegal (that's why I don't smoke cannabis.)