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Alcohol and Drug Use Cause 3.2 Million Deaths Annually, WHO Calls for Urgent Action

-Editorial

A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled staggering statistics concerning global deaths attributed to alcohol and drug use, highlighting a pressing global health crisis. According to the WHO’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders, approximately 2.6 million deaths annually are linked to alcohol consumption alone, representing 4.7% of all global deaths. An additional 0.6 million deaths are attributed to psychoactive drug use, underscoring the pervasive impact of substance misuse on public health worldwide.

The report brings to light a profound gender disparity, with 2 million alcohol-related deaths and 0.4 million drug-related deaths occurring among men each year. Globally, an estimated 400 million individuals live with alcohol or drug use disorders, among whom 209 million suffer from alcohol dependence, illustrating the widespread nature of this health crisis.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the severe health implications of substance use, stressing its link to chronic diseases, mental health disorders, and millions of preventable deaths annually. He called for urgent, comprehensive actions to address these impacts and enhance access to treatment for substance use disorders, which are currently underutilized due to stigma and misconceptions.

The WHO report highlights critical gaps in treatment coverage, revealing that only a fraction of those in need receive adequate care, ranging from less than 1% to 35% in reporting countries. This treatment gap perpetuates the cycle of harm associated with substance use disorders, further exacerbating health inequalities globally.

In response, the WHO advocates intensified efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.5 by 2030, which aims to strengthen prevention and treatment strategies for substance abuse. These efforts include enhancing awareness, bolstering healthcare system capacities for prevention and treatment, and mobilizing resources to support comprehensive interventions.

Beyond mortality, the report delves into the broader societal impacts of psychoactive substance use, citing its detrimental effects on socioeconomic status, mental health, and non-communicable diseases. Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately affected, facing increased risks of injuries and infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, particularly in cases of injecting drug use.

Global trends in alcohol consumption reveal a slight decrease in per capita consumption from 5.7 liters in 2010 to 5.5 liters in 2019, yet regional disparities persist, with higher consumption rates observed in the WHO European Region and the Americas. The COVID-19 pandemic exerted varying impacts on alcohol consumption globally, with an overall reduction of 10% observed from 2019 to 2020, highlighting the complex interactions between health crises.

The health consequences of alcohol consumption are stark, contributing to 2.6 million deaths globally in 2019 alone, with males bearing the brunt of these fatalities and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). Despite effective treatment options, barriers to access persist, compounded by inadequate screening and intervention programs in many countries.

In addressing these multifaceted challenges, WHO calls for integrated policy responses that encompass regulatory measures, prevention strategies, and enhanced treatment capacities. Such initiatives are crucial to mitigating the profound negative impact of substance use on global health, promoting resilience, and advancing sustainable development goals.

For more detailed information and recommendations, please refer to the WHO’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders.

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