Most people with drug use disorders do not receive effective treatment and care, according to a new United Nations information system that for the first time, provides details on the resources allocated to the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug-related problems in 147 countries.
"Drug dependence is a disorder that can be treated effectively but, unfortunately, the large majority of persons who need it do not have access to treatment," the Director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr. Shekhar Saxena, said in a news release announcing the launch of the information system.
"The data presented in the new system illustrate the huge gaps that still exist in the area of drug dependence treatment. But more and more countries realize the benefits of treatment for drug and alcohol dependence, not only for the individuals themselves, but also for the society and the economy," he added.
According to WHO, until now, drug dependence has not been recognized as a health problem in many countries and stigma and discrimination associated with drug dependence have been major barriers to appropriate treatment. For the health agency, drug dependence is a disorder that can be treated effectively with low-cost medicines and standardized psychological therapies.
With its launch coinciding with the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the WHO Global Health Observatory Database - Resources for the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders estimates that, worldwide, about 230 million adults aged 15-64 - or five per cent of the world's adult population - used an illicit drug at least once in 2010, including about 27 million people with severe drug problems.
The global information system provides data for each of the assessed countries, such as funding, staff and services, and thereby complements already available information on the scope and associated harms of substance use disorders. The country profiles included in the new system cover 88 per cent of the world's population.
"The availability of drug dependence treatment lags well behind treatment and care offered for other diseases according to our data," said the Coordinator of WHO's Management of Substance Use team, Dr. Vladimir Poznyak.
As an example, he said that only 45 per cent of the assessed countries are able to provide essential medicines to treat the dependence on heroin and other opiates, and in almost half of the countries where treatment is available, not more than one in five people with drug use disorders benefits from the services.
"A quarter of the countries which identify opiates as the main drug problem do not offer the range of medications recommended by WHO," he added.
WHO has been working closely with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) since 2009 to increase the access to treatment for people with drug use disorders. The health agency notes that the understanding that drug abuse, at its core, is a public health issue has increased in recent years - however, only 82 countries offer special health services to people with drug use disorders.