400M People Living with Alcohol, Drug Use Disorders, Says WHO

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No fewer than 400 million people are living with alcohol and drug use disorders globally, with 209 million suffering from alcohol dependence, a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has disclosed.

The report, based on 2019 data also shows that 2.6 million deaths per year are attributable to alcohol consumption an drug abuse, while 0.6 million deaths are due to psychoactive drug use.

This comes as the global community commemorates International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking  today, 26 June 2024, with the theme “The evidence is clear: invest in prevention”.

The newly released data of the apex health institution further revealed that men are disproportionately affected, with 2 million alcohol-related and 0.4 million drug-attributable deaths among them.

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WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his remarks on the drug challenge, emphasised the severe health impacts of substance use, noting that it increases the risk of chronic diseases, mental health conditions, and preventable deaths, while placing a heavy burden on families and communities.

He called for urgent, bold actions to reduce the health and social consequences of alcohol consumption and to make treatment for substance use disorders more accessible and affordable.

The report underscores the need for accelerated global action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.5 by 2030, which aims to reduce alcohol and drug consumption and improve access to quality treatment for substance use disorders.

He said despite some reductions in alcohol-related death rates since 2010, the overall number of deaths remains high, with significant impacts in the European and African regions and the highest death rates in low-income countries.

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In 2019, the new data shows that alcohol consumption contributed to 1.6 million deaths from non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer, 724,000 deaths from injuries, and 284,000 deaths linked to communicable diseases such as HIV and TB.

The report read in part “Young people aged 20-39 years accounted for 13 per cent of alcohol-attributable deaths.

“Global per capita alcohol consumption slightly decreased from 5.7 liters in 2010 to 5.5 liters in 2019. However, heavy episodic drinking remains a concern, with 38% of current drinkers engaging in this behavior. Among 15-19 year olds, 23.5 per cent, were current drinkers, with the highest rates in Europe and the Americas.

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“Despite the existence of effective treatment options for substance use disorders, coverage remains low, with only 1-35 per cent  of people in need receiving treatment in 2019.

“Many countries lack specific budgets or data on governmental expenditures for substance use treatment. Stigma, discrimination, and misconceptions about treatment efficacy contribute to these gaps, as does the low prioritisation of substance use disorders by health agencies”.

To address these issues, the WHO called for intensified actions in eight strategic areas, including global advocacy, strengthening health systems, training health professionals, implementing the Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030, enhancing international efforts, engaging civil society, improving monitoring and research, and increasing resource mobilisation.

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