The Top 11 Countries with the Biggest Drug Problems

This article aims to identify the top 11 countries with the biggest drug issue and discover precisely why these countries are in this position.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: This article aims to identify the top 11 countries with the biggest drug issue and discover precisely why these countries are in this position. Through this, we can better educate ourselves and our communities in order to create a drug-free environment. We invite you to ask your questions or share your comments at the end.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.

Table of Contents:

How Do You Identify a Country’s Drug Problem?

There are many indicators and statistics to analyze when considering drug problems. We can look at a country’s top drugs by category. Or, we can look at drug sentencing and imprisonment related to use. Still more, we can evaluate individual drug use rate, addiction rate, or recidivism of use.

The short answer is you look at the country’s percentage for per capita use. This means you seek out how many people are using drugs for each person, taken on an individual basis. For example, in Austrailia, 3% of adults use opioid prescriptions – which can be equated to 3% per capita.

However, in order to properly make a list, we must also factor in the amount of responsibility each country takes in their drug problem. Are they pushing efforts for effective treatment? Are they making a productive attempt to fix the problem and have shown positive results? This is important because though one country might have a bad drug problem now, they could fix their problem in the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, you might be curious as to what the most commonly abused drugs are across the world. They are as followed:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis (both medical and recreational)
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens (such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms)
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA (molly or ecstasy)
  • Nicotine
  • Prescription medication
  • Synthetic cannabis

When measuring the top countries with the biggest drug problems, it’s important to factor in every drug available rather than a select class. However, each of the following countries has one particular drug they are renowned for abusing. With that in mind, we’ll be taking a look at the most prominently abused drug within these countries as well as referencing statistics to other drugs.

#11 – Australia

When most people think of the opioid epidemic, their sights are set on the United States. However, Australia has been facing a similar outbreak of its own. Though only 3% of adults in the country use these drugs – compared to the United States’ 6% – it can’t be forgotten how much smaller the population is. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the country has a little over 23 million people which means around 69,000 Australians are abusing opioids.

Furthermore, the 2012 United Nations Drug Report found Australia to have one of the highest global prevalence of cannabis use which has increased in recent decades. Luckily, the use of other drugs, such as MDMA has made a decline.

This is primarily because the Australian government is creating a number of policies in response to the illicit drug use. The biggest enactment was released in the 1980s and is known as “harm minimisation”. Still in effect today, the following are what the policy makers continue to work towards:

  • Reducing supply-demand. The end goal is to lower overall demand for illicit and, therefore, protect communities.
  • Creating border security via attention to customs controls. Further, the government targets and strictly prosecutes people involved in illicit drug trafficking to help reduce illicit drug supply within the country.
  • Promoting treatment of current users and drug-free abstinence.
  • There are also programs involved in providing clean needle and syringes within a controlled location for the sake of preventing the spread of diseases.

It should be noted that there are other countries on this list which also follow a “harm minimisation” strategy and these will be referenced throughout the article.

#10 – Canada

It may surprise you to find Canada on this list, but being so close to the United States (and all the drug problems the country produces) it comes to no surprise it has its share of difficulty with substance abuse. In fact, compared to other countries, Canada has a higher per capita use of marijuana – ranking in at about 6.4%. As you’ll find below, the countries listed have less per capita use of other substances. However, the reason Canada is lower on this list is for two specific reasons.

For one, their most abused drug is cannabis and, compared to prescription opioids, it’s not very harmful. Still, marijuana has takes a strong hold of Canada. In 2011, it was reported that within the province of British Columbia, around 44.3% of B.C. residents had used cannabis at one point or another. This number has dropped in recent years, but there’s no doubt marijuana still has a prevalence within the country. Especially since it’s been legalized nationwide.

Secondly, Canada provides a universal healthcare system and, through that, residents who are addicted to drugs have the ability to enter a proper treatment facility despite a lack of economic success. Therefore, Canada provides the opportunity for everyone to live drug-free. Though not everyone takes the opportunity of this privilege, there’s no denying how many can and already have benefited from this.

#9 – Mexico

Mexico has an unfortunate reputation for being a large exporter of various drugs and for its drug cartels. Within this context, it’s understandable that a lot of drug production goes on in the country. But how addicted are the residents themselves?

As of the time of writing, methamphetamines are the leading problem within Mexico, with about 3.9% per capita use. This number seems to continuously rise. Between the years 2010 to 2011, methamphetamine seizures had increased by 73%.

Though meth is a major problem of Mexico, there are larger problems at hand when looking into the Drug War. The Mexican government, particularly President Enrique Peña Nieto, is currently fighting against the cartels and, inevitably, sparking a large amount of violence. To get a scope of how big an issue this has become, 12,903 people died due to drug-related violence in the first three-quarters of 2011.

All the fighting is for a $29 billion annual market in which the United States is the only buyer.

#8 – Brazil

Brazil is a very big fan of a newly-emerging drug known as “Oxi”. Some may confuse this with the street-name for OxyContin, but these drugs are much different in scope. Oxi is a mixture of:
  • Calcium oxide
  • Cocaine paste
  • Gasoline
  • Keroscene

Brazil has reported 4.9% Oxi use per capita. The reason for its popularity is due to the fact that it’s cheaper than cocaine and much more powerful. It is also much more addictive. Likewise, crack cocaine use in Brazil has also been seeing an accelaration in use since the late 1980’s.

However, similar to Mexico, Brazil has faced problems with drug trafficking for decades now – especially in poverty stricken areas such as favelas. In turn, this is allowing for drugs like crack and oxi to spread widely throughout the major cities.

#7 – United States

The United States is facing one of the worst prescription pill epidemics the country’s seen in history. It’s been estimated that around 7 out of every 10 Americans is either on one prescription pill or was recently. With that, here are the top three (in order) most prescribed medications:
  • Pills for chronic conditions (i.e. heart complications)
  • Antidepressants
  • Opioids

With so many prescriptions so leniently handed to the public, doctors are prime suspects and current drug pushers. Through this, people end up going to other sources to fill in their cravings as either:

1. Prescriptions run out and doctors won’t re-prescribe.
2. They’ve built a tolerance to their prescription and need more to feel the initial effects.

In turn, this is only making the illicit drug problem more powerful and fueling the drug trafficking in places like Mexico. It’s estimated that prescription use amongst Americans is 6.2% per capita and the unfortunate truth is, that number continues to slowly rise. Another issue this is fueling is the opioid epidemic.

#6 – Afghanistan

As the world’s largest opium producer, the country faces a huge heroin problem. It’s been recorded that around 8,000,000 Afghans were addicted to the drug in 2012 which is a 75% increase since 2005. This constitutes for close to 7% of the entire population.

However, though Afghanistan’s heroin problem is dangerous, the reason they’re so high on the list is because of the lack of access Afghans have to proper treatment. When considering this with the amount of war that’s been going on in the country and the trauma that comes along with it, it’s understandable that people continue to take it despite the negative consequences heroin comes with.

#5 – Russia

Russia is well-known for its drinking. The stereotypical Russian is one we often associate with the alcohol, vodka. However, that stereotype has harsh, real-life implications we often ignore. One such being the high rate of premature death which is linked to alcohol consumption. Out of all the Russian men who don’t make it to the age of 55, 25% die from alcohol-related causes such as:
  • Accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Liver disease
  • Suicide
  • Violence

The biggest problem is that the country has made a lifestyle out of consuming alcohol. It’s considered normal to drink large amounts of it on a regular basis.

#4 – Slovakia

Slovakia has puzzled researchers for its high consumption of inhalants – around 13% per capita. This number is higher than the worldwide average and has led to debate as to why it’s happening in Slovakia. One study believes it has to do with the easy access of tolune – a slovent which has a similar appearance to paint thinner and has been reportedly been abused in Slovakia.

The danger in Slovakia’s inhalant use has to do with the amount of deaths attached to it. In fact, many experience fatal consequence after just using the drug for the first time. Therefore, those who use over a period of time not only risk death but also major health issues.

#3 – France

Just as with the United States, France is finding itself in a prescription pill epidemic. However, in terms of their use per capita – 13.2% – there seems to be a bigger epidemic at hand. Part of the problem is how much more available prescription medication is in the country. Not just in amount, but also in cost. It’s estimated that a pill which costs $5.00 USD in France is purchased for around $22.00 USD in America.

#2 – United Kingdom

Neck and neck with Russia, the United Kingdom actually has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the world – 13.65%. Again, a major part of the problem has to do with the country’s social acceptance of drinking. It’s common for people within the United Kingdom to binge drink on a weekly basis and alcohol is also cheap to obtain.

It’s estimated around 1.6 million people within the country have developed a dependence on alcohol and a small portion of those will access treatment. The problem doesn’t have to do with England’s healthcare system. Rather, it’s a complication of social acceptance.

It’s also been found that around 52% of men in the United Kingdom binge drink at least once a week along with 53% of women. The prime issue here has to do with the culture and, in order to fix the problem, England must undergo a change in culture.

#1 – Iran

With 14.32% per capita heroin use, Iran tops off our list at number 1 for the country with the biggest drug problem. There are two reasons the country is currently undergoing the worst heroin epidemic scene throughout the world.

The first has to do with easy access. Being so close to Afghanistan, the number one producer of opium, Iran has been able to obtain heroin with little problem. The second has to do with the country’s economic status. Since there’s little money within the government as is, little has gone towards keeping their citizens off drugs and offering treatment to those already on them.

Iran has recently created a better border control system which has, in fact, reduced trafficking of heroin into the country. Therefore, the drug has become harder to obtain and people have been taking it less. However, this isn’t enough to keep Iran from having the worst drug problem and, in order to change the country’s status, much more effort must come.

Your Questions

Got any questions?

If you have any remaining questions about countries with significant drug issues or are looking for advice on drug addiction treatment, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below.

If you have any further information on this topic or advice to give to people struggling with addiction, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment promptly and personally.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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