The Toll of Drug Use on 200 Million People Worldwide

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News


hand reaching for pillsEarlier this year, Los Angeles Times reported numbers for drug abuse worldwide, commenting on the impact on the cost of healthcare due to widespread drug use. It is estimated that 200 million people worldwide use illegal drugs every year. These numbers do not include alcohol or tobacco use, which also impacts healthcare services and costs dramatically.

The Drugs

The study was conducted by The Lancet, a medical journal in the United Kingdom. The specific drugs that the study is focusing on are opioids, amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana. Their information is being compiled from reports on drug use and abuse, dependence, fatalities and other health concerns recognized to be consequential to drug abuse. While other substances may have health implications, these four drugs offer the most thorough information from which to conduct the study.


Globally, marijuana use is estimated at 125 to 203 million users. Amphetamine use is shown at 14 to 56 million users, opioids are reportedly used by 12 to 21 million and cocaine use is reportedly 14 to 21 million persons.

Total number of users has increased worldwide. 2012 statistics on illegal drug use have shown increases from 180 to 185 million in the 1990s to early 2000.

Drug users who inject drugs number from 11 million to 21 million. It is estimated that 1 in 20 persons who are in the age group between 15 and 64 are using illegal drugs.

Health Implications

Obvious side effects of drugs are deaths caused by overdose. Other far-reaching complications include heart disease, lung and breathing problems, kidney and liver disorders and mental illness.

Health care costs for those impacted by drug use include the astronomical number of persons who suffer from heart and lung diseases caused by tobacco use. While legal, tobacco is known to cause over 5 million fatalities per year worldwide. An increase of up to 8 million is expected by the year 2030.

This number does not include those 16 million Americans who suffer from some form of disease directly attributable to tobacco use. It is estimated that for each death from smoking, 30 more persons suffer from a smoking-related illness.

Over 2 million people die from alcohol abuse each year around the world. This number far overshadows the 250,000 estimated annual deaths due to use of illegal drugs. However, the years of life lost for illegal drug use comes in at over 2 million. The reason it is higher than that of alcohol (1.5 million) is because many illicit drug users begin to experiment with drugs at a young age and subsequently die from them.

Healthcare costs for those who do not die from drug overdose are astronomical. Why? Those with persistent and ongoing healthcare issues caused by drugs will run in the billions of dollars per year. Care for chronic and persistent illness is costly and those who have these health issues are going to increase annually, as do the numbers of drug users who incur health issues around their drug use and abuse.

More Findings

The number of persons who use illegal drugs vary from those who actually become dependent. This ratio is impossible to determine, since there is no formula that applies. There is also little correlation that can be drawn between users who go on to incur healthcare costs because causal implications cannot be formulated either.

What is significant and does show strong trends for the future, as these statistics impact the field of healthcare, are the staggering number of persons who use illegal drugs. It must be recognized that costs will continue to rise as incidence of use escalates.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World Drug Report 2011. Retrieved online from:

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

Krokodil Drug Use in US

March 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News


Australian Freshwater crocodileKrokodil comes from Russia, where there is a severe shortage of heroin. The war in Afghanistan, amongst other factors in decreasing production of opium in that country (the world’s largest producer of opium poppies) is directly attributed to the creation of this drug.

The drug is made from codeine tablets with lighter fluid or paint thinner, and is a highly toxic substance. Injection of the drug increases the rapid effects. An active ingredient in codeine medication is Desomorphine, which is 8-10 times more potent and addictive than morphine. Desomorphine also acts much faster than morphine. These factors account for the widespread use of the drug, despite its horrific side effects.

The other ingredients that create its toxic and flesh-rotting effects are red phosphorous and high quantities of gasoline, paint thinner or other solvents.

What Does It Do?

Named Krokodil, the Russian name for crocodile, this drug destroys human flesh from inside the body. Named for the green scales covering human skin, it eats away at the site of the injection, causing unsightly wounds to appear, along with the horrible skin affliction.

Flesh is dissolved from the inside of the body, usually eating from the bones outward, exposing the bones and leaving little or no flesh. Users can seldom be saved from death, except in cases where surgical intervention is done and use is discontinued. Amputation of damaged limbs is often the only way to save the life of the user, in order to remove the rapidly rotting flesh. Most users who continue to use the drug die within two years of first use.

Blood diseases are also another outcome of use of Krokodil. As blood vessels are destroyed by the drug, it enters the bloodstream and causes damage in various ways and can travel throughout the body to infest sites other than where the injection takes place. This rapidly increases its damaging effects.

Why are Addicts Using Krokodil?

Costs are low for this drug. Because of the shortage of heroin in certain European and Russian markets, as mentioned above, this drug presents addicts with a cheaper and more readily available alternative.

Another reason for using Krokodil is its faster assimilation into the body. Desomorphine is much more rapidly synthesized, making it virtually untraceable by methods used to test for drugs. Those who are likely to be randomly drug screened may turn to Krokodil because it is more difficult to detect with standard test methods.

What is the Popularity?

Numbers of cases found in the United States are low. This is believed to be due to the low cost and high grade heroin that is readily available in the US. This heroin comes from neighboring Mexico, where opium production has increased rapidly since the early 2000s.

There are thought to be only 3-4 cases of Krokodil in the US and one of those was an American teen who was diagnosed in Mexico, although she reportedly used the drug in the US before traveling there.

While reports vary widely on the number of Russian and European addicts who have been diagnosed with Krokodil use and outbreaks are reportedly dwindling, it was once believed to have been affecting upwards of 100,000 people. The numbers are hard to confirm, due to conflicting reports. Part of the reason is the Russian silence regarding treatment of addicts and the various diseases killing them. Reports are silenced and altered by their media, and medical statistics are unconfirmed.


CritCom. The Quietest Casualties: Russian Public Health Policies Cause Patient Deaths in Crimea. Retrieved online from:

Doheny, Kathleen. (9/30/2013). Krokodil Drug FAQ. Deadly Drug May Have Entered the US.Retrieved online from:

Ehrenfreund, Max. (10/07/2013). Washington Post. Homemade Heroin First Developed in Russia may have come to the US. Retrieved online from:

Newser. Teen’s Lesions Linked to Cheap Heroin Substitute. Retrieved online from:

Time. The Curse of the Crocodile: Russia’s Deadly Designer Drug. Retrieved online from:,8599,2078355,00.html

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

What Is Synthetic Marijuana?

October 8, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics


TGDGmarijuanaThe average citizen in the U.S. is familiar with marijuana, at least anecdotally. Nearly half of the states in the country have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized marijuana for recreational use. For many people living in the 48 U.S. states where marijuana is not legal for recreational use, a legal alternative has become popular over the last few years: synthetic marijuana. This mock cannabis is widely accessible and notably dangerous.

Understanding Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic Marijuana is considered a “designer drug” with effects that are intended to mimic the effects of real marijuana. Two popular brand names for this drug are K2 and Spice. These two drugs contain synthetic cannabinoids that are similar to THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component found in actual marijuana. The synthetic cannabinoids that are used in synthetic marijuana are considered unsafe, causing extreme anxiety or psychotic episodes in many instances, and have been banned in some European countries for years. The U.S. also banned these synthetic cannabinoids in July 2012. However, synthetic marijuana sales continue legally today because many brands have simply replaced the synthetic cannabinoids that had been banned with others that are not.

Despite the assumed similarities between synthetic marijuana and actual marijuana, the differences are stark. Synthetic marijuana is considerably more unpredictable and dangerous than real marijuana. The use of synthetic marijuana has been associated with acute psychosis, the worsening of mental illness (even if stable at the time of use), hypertension, accelerated heart rate, heart attack, seizures, hallucinations, convulsions, panic attacks, high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, agitation, and long-term psychotic disorder for those who were already at risk for mental illness.

There has been at least one death associated with the use of synthetic marijuana and several deaths that are being investigated in association with the use of this drug. A teenage girl who used synthetic marijuana daily for two weeks experienced several strokes, brain damage, blindness, and paralysis.

Because of a lack of oversight and regulation of this product, effects and ingredients seem to vary widely from batch to batch. A German lab that tested synthetic marijuana concluded that the ingredients listed on the packet were not an accurate representation of the ingredients contained within the product itself.

Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

There are many negative side effects from use of synthetic marijuana. The substance has been linked to serious health conditions and even death. The immediate effects of synthetic marijuana are said to be similar to those of real marijuana, but more short-lived. Many users of synthetic marijuana have claimed to experience a simple feeling of relaxation after using the drug.

Synthetic marijuana is especially popular among high school students. The drug is difficult to detect through drug testing. When compared to actual marijuana, synthetic marijuana is much more powerful. Marijuana activists have been outspoken about their disapproval of synthetic marijuana – especially its name. Many people believe that “synthetic marijuana” is a dangerous misnomer, leading users to assume that the drug is not as dangerous as actual marijuana when, in fact, the consensus is that this drug is highly dangerous.

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

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