Closer to home - drug use in six Latin American countries in focus

UNODC and CICAD-OEA present first comparative study on drug consumption in 6 countries in South America

26 June 2008 - Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are the countries with the greatest use of illicit drugs, Bolivia appears to be in an intermediate situation, and Peru and Ecuador have detected lower consumption of these drugs. However, in the case of Peru, approximately one out of two cocaine consumers present signs of dependency, the first Comparative Study on Drug Consumption in the general population between the ages of 15 and 64 indicates.

The report highlights that marijuana is the drug mostly used, mainly among the young population. The average of recent consumption is 4.8 per cent, superior to the 3.9 per cent world average. This figure for the six countries is equivalent to 2.1 million people from the total of 43 million people between the ages of 15 to 64 represented in this study. The higher levels of recent consumption (prevalence in the last year) of marijuana were observed in Argentina and Chile with figures of around 7 per cent, while in Ecuador and Peru the figures do not exceed 1per cent. In all countries consumption is higher among men than women and mainly it  is concentrated in the 15 to 34 age group. 

This study is the result of a joint and coordinated effort between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control  Commission (CICAD-OEA) with the national drug control commissions of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay.

The recent study points out that cocaine is the second-most consumed drug last year, with an average prevalence of 1.4 per cent. The study also shows that in countries with a high level of illicit drug consumption as well as in those with low consumption, users use mostly one drug, mainly marijuana. Therefore, it should not be surprising that this is one of the drugs for which there is a greater demand for treatment in several of these countries.

For the three main types of drugs studied (marijuana, cocaine and cocaine base) there is a high percentage of consumers that show signs of dependency in the six countries. Although there are variations in each one of them, these results clearly illustrate the power of addiction these drugs have, with foreseeable negative consequences. Not only in the personal, family and social context, but also with regard to most of the countries' health systems, where it would be quite challenging to satisfy a massive demand for treatment.

On the other hand, an important association between illicit drug consumption and the perception of having easy access to them has been observed. In fact, those countries that present a higher level of consumption are also countries where there is a greater perception regarding the ease of obtaining drugs. The same thing happens with drug supply, in the sense that in those countries where there is a greater declaration of illicit drugs, there is also a greater declaration of having received a direct supply of drugs, be it to buy or consume.

It is important to point out that this is the first study in which the same methodology has been applied and where more than 60,000 people have been interviewed - representing some 43 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 in 6 countries in South America - with the objective of studying different aspects of drug consumption, licit as well as illicit.

Full text of the report (pdf - in Spanish)