The U.S. has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world, despite tough anti-drug laws, a recent WHO survey shows.
More than 42% in the study admit having used marijuana, and 16% admit having used cocaine -- a cocaine-use rate four times that of New Zealand, which ranked No. 2 out of 17 countries surveyed.
For that first cross-national drug-use study, WHO researchers For this first cross-national drug-use study, WHO researchers surveyed more than 54,000 people in the Americas (the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia), Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Ukraine), the Middle East and Africa (Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, and South Africa), Asia (Japan and China), and Oceania (New Zealand), using a standardized methodology. While WHO researchers determined that drug use is more prevalent in wealthier countries, researchers determined that income does not have a "static" effect on drug use. Overall, researchers found the greatest involvement with all drugs by younger people and "remarkable similarity" across the countries surveyed in the "age of onset" of use. Typically, alcohol and tobacco use begins earliest (between 16 and 19 years of age), followed by pot use (around 18), and coke (typically between 21 and 24).
Researchers found gender and socioeconomic differences in both legal and illegal drug use. For example, men were more likely than women to have used legal and illegal drugs, and younger adults were more likely than older adults to have used drugs of all kinds.
Single adults were more likely than married adults to report tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine use but not alcohol use. People with higher incomes were also more likely to use both legal and illegal drugs."Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones," researcher Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues write in PLoS Medicine.
In the end, it may be that affluence has more influence on drug use than do anti-drug laws. "The use of drugs seems to be a feature of more affluent countries. The [U.S.], which has been driving much of the world's drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies," reads the study. "Clearly, by itself, a punitive policy toward possession and use accounts for limited variation in nation-level rates of illegal drug use," the researchers noted.