The INCB annual report reveals that prescription drug abuse has become a threat to public health, especially in North America. It is estimated that in total, more Americans die from prescription drug abuse than cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin combined
Prescription drug abuse – a growing threat to public health
According to information provided by Governments in the region, there were approximately 48,000 drug-related deaths in North America in 2011, representing a mortality rate of 155.8 per million inhabitants aged 15-64, the highest rate in the world. While prevalence rates for the abuse of illicit drugs have remained relatively stable, they continue to exceed global averages.
Prescription drug abuse has continued to constitute a serious and growing threat to public health. Governments in the region have sought to address this threat through the adoption of various measures, including the staging of prescription drug “take-back days”. In the United States, the organization of such initiatives by the Drug Enforcement Administration has resulted in the removal of over 1,700 tons of prescription drugs which are no longer needed from circulation. Canadian authorities have also increased their efforts to deal with the widespread abuse of prescription drugs in the country through the adoption of a national strategy on prescription drug abuse and the staging of the first ever pan-Canadian prescription drug take-back day.
In North America, as in other regions, women have been disproportionately affected by prescription drug abuse. While drug abuse prevalence remains more common among men, rates of abuse among women have increased at a faster pace. Statistics released in July 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that almost 48,000 women in the U.S. lost their lives as a result of prescription opioid abuse between 1999 and 2011. In Mexico, the National Institute of Women has indicated that drug abuse among Mexican women has doubled in the past decade. Women are also more likely than men to be affected by drug-related domestic violence, crime and sexual assault.
The Board has continued to be concerned about the control measures applicable to cannabis in the North American sub-region. In Canada, the Board notes that the authorities have taken extensive measures to reform the country’s medical cannabis programme in order to tighten controls aimed at preventing diversion into illicit channels. In the U.S., medical cannabis schemes adopted by various States do not adequately implement the control measures mandated by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In addition, the Board reiterates that cannabis legalization initiatives underway in the States of Colorado and Washington violate the 1961 Convention’s restriction of the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes.