Over three-quarters of the world’s population, or about 5.5 billion people, lack access to proper pain-relief medication and life-saving drugs, the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said, in its annual report for 2014. Moreover, access to these essential drugs is markedly lopsided, with 17 percent of the world’s population consuming 92 percent of all morphine -- a narcotic pain reliever -- used globally.
“Data on the availability of opioid analgesics indicate that, despite progress made in some regions, such as Latin America and West, East and South-East Asia, approximately 5.5 billion people live in countries with low levels of, or non-existent, access to medicines containing narcotic drugs and have inadequate access to treatment for moderate to severe pain,” the U.N. agency said, in the report, adding that the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand were the major consumers of morphine.
Morphine and codeine, which are widely used as analgesics, are derivatives of opium poppy. According to the INCB report, though the global production of opiate raw materials rich in the chemicals increased worldwide, the discrepancy in the availability of narcotic drugs widened. Moreover, the report, which urged governments to address this discrepancy, also said that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world had further limited access to essential medicines and life-saving drugs.
“This was the case in 2013 in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan, when the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control,” the U.N. agency said, in a statement accompanying the report.
INCB also expressed concerns over the increased use of new psychoactive or “mind-altering” drugs, calling it a “major public health threat and a truly global phenomenon.” According to the report, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of new psychoactive substances, with 388 such unique substances identified in 2014, compared to 348 in the previous year. The agency also noted that there was a 66 percent increase in the global consumption of methylphenidate, a stimulant primarily used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“The extent of use of NPS (new psychoactive substances) worldwide illustrates the dynamic nature of the drug problem,” the report said, adding that drug-related deaths continued to remain a serious issue.
“The highest drug-related mortality rate of any region in the world is in North America. In the United States, there are more drug overdose deaths, primarily related to prescription opioids, than homicides and road accident fatalities,” INCB said, in the report. It also criticized the legalization of cannabis in certain U.S. states, and in Uruguay, stating that it went against international drug laws and promoted the abuse of the drug among pre-teens and older youth.
“To achieve a balanced and integrated approach to the drug problem, Governments also should ensure that demand reduction is one of the first priorities of their drug control policies, while they should put greater emphasis on and provide support and appropriate resources to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation,” the report said.