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How Does Drug Addiction in the US Compare to the Rest of the World?

When President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, he said the opioid epidemic was a worldwide problem. Is that true? How does the US compare to the rest of the world when it comes to drug abuse and addiction? This topic is as complex as you want to make it, considering the many differences in cultural attitudes, country sizes, and governmental structures or lack thereof.

There are, however, some broad comparisons we can make. For example, the World Health Organization found in a survey of 17 countries that the US leads the world in illicit drug use, particularly marijuana and cocaine. In fact, Americans were four times more likely to have used cocaine than Kiwis, who came in second. Americans use marijuana at twice the rate of the Netherlands, a country with far more liberal drug policies.

The disparity in opioid use between the US and the rest of the world is even bigger. The US accounts for about five percent of the world’s population but consumes 80 percent of the world’s opioid painkillers. In most other countries, opioids are only used in hospitals, but in the US they are widely prescribed for home use, which accounts for much of the disparity. One study found that nearly a quarter of physicians prescribe 10 times the recommended amount of opioids. While the Centers for Disease Control recommend a three day limit, these doctors were prescribing a month’s supply, which greatly increases the likelihood of addiction and escalation.

This huge disparity in opioid use contributes to another huge disparity: overdose deaths. Again, the US leads the world by a considerable margin. While the US has five percent of the world’s population, Americans account for about a third of all overdose deaths. Most of these are attributed to opioid overdose, particularly heroin and fentanyl, and most often a combination of opioids and something else, such as alcohol, barbiturates, or benzos.

Compared to the rest of the world, the US has much higher rates of drug abuse and overdose deaths despite having much stricter drug laws. This suggests there are other factors at work. Likely candidates include aggressive marketing by drug companies, perverse incentives in the healthcare system, and lack of treatment options, particularly for mental health issues. Countries with lower rates of abuse and overdose typically treat addiction as a health issue rather than a crime.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, treatment is available. Don’t let yourself become a statistic in this swelling epidemic. Gardens Wellness Center can help. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at