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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Volume 13, Number 2 (July, 1998)

Current Trends in Drug Use Worldwide


At the meeting last summer of the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) and the International Epidemiology Work Group (IEWG) on Drug Abuse, researchers presented data from 1995 and 1996 that show current and emerging drug abuse problems in the United States and other countries and regions of the world. Highlights from those data include the following.

United States Drug Use Statistics

  • Heroin use increased in 17 of the 21 CEWG areas in the United States in 1995 and 1996. The purity of heroin has increased and there are reports that the number of younger users and the number of people snorting and smoking the drug all increased.

  • Cocaine use, though still at high levels, decreased in 17 of the 21 CEWG areas from 1995 to 1996. Prior CEWG reports had shown that cocaine use had stabilized in 1995.

  • Marijuana use continued to increase both nationally and in almost every CEWG area in 1995 and 1996.

  • Methamphetamine use patterns varied across the country in 1995 and 1996. Methamphetamine use increased in some areas of the western continental United States and Hawaii. It decreased in two high-use cities - San Diego and Phoenix - but continued to be a serious problem in those cities. Low levels of methamphetamine use continued in Chicago and east coast areas.

International Drug Use Statistics

  • In Canada, marijuana was the most widely used illicit drug in six major cities in 1996. Heroin was a growing problem in a number of these cities. Cocaine was a major public health issue in at least half of the six cities.

  • In Mexico, marijuana was the most frequently reported primary drug of abuse by drug abuse treatment patients in 16 cities in 1996. A substantial number of these patients also reported cocaine as the primary drug of choice. Inhalant use was also high.

  • In the capital cities of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, marijuana continued to be the illicit drug most often reported as "ever used" in the 5 years from 1991 through 1996. Cocaine use increased in five of seven cities reporting during this period.

  • In East and South Asia, heroin remained the dominant drug of abuse in 11 cities in 1996. Cannabis (marijuana/hashish) was the second most widely abused drug.

  • In Australia, marijuana remained the most popular illicit drug, and amphetamines were second in popularity in 1995. Heroin has become more widely available, cheaper, and purer in the last 2 years; the majority of users inject the drug, but smoking has become increasingly popular among some users.

  • In Europe, heroin and other opiates continued to be the predominant drug of abuse reported by treatment patients in most of 19 cities across the continent in 1995. Cannabis was the most frequently reported secondary drug.

  • In South Africa, marijuana and methaqualone, a depressant, were the most frequently abused illicit substances in Cape Town and Durban in 1996. The abuse of cocaine and heroin was reportedly on the rise.

For More Information

Epidemiologic Trends in Drug Abuse: Reports of the Community Epidemiology Work Group are available on the World Wide Web at:

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