Estimating the Burden of Disease from Drug Dependence

Burden of disease

A study measured the consequences of illicit drug dependence by quantifying the years of life lost due to thereof

Illicit drug use can have a profoundly negative effect on a person’s health. It can lead to premature death, such as in the case of overdose, but can also severely curtail the quality of life through disability( any short-term or long-term health loss) such as from liver disease, or infection with HIV and hepatitis B and C.

A recent study (1) presented in the 2014 World Drug Report of the  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) produced global estimates encompassing both the years of potential life lost due to premature death and the years of life lived with disability due to illicit drug dependence, as well as drug use as a risk factor for other health outcomes (schizophrenia from cannabis use, hepatitis and HIV from injecting drug use, and drug dependence as a risk factor for suicide).

Some of the most striking facts of this study include:

  •   Drug dependence on illicit drugs was responsible for 3.6 million years of life lost through premature death and 16.4 million years of life lived with disability globally.
  •   Opioid dependence contributed most to the burden of disease, being responsible for 55 per cent of years of life lost due to premature death and 44 per cent of years of life lost through disability. A total of 43,000 deaths were attributed to opioid dependence in 2010, which suggests that life expectancy was typically cut short by 46 years in each of those cases of death.
  •   The global burden of disease attributed to cannabis dependency is higher than that for cocaine. Although cocaine use is associated with greater harm, the far higher number of cannabis-dependent users results in the greater global burden of disease overall.
  •   Illicit drug use was estimated to be the cause of 0.8 per cent of disability-adjusted life years (2) worldwide in 2010 (ranking as the 19th leading risk factor). In comparison, tobacco smoking was the cause of an estimated 6.3 per cent of global disability-adjusted life years, and alcohol the cause of an estimated 3.9 per cent.

(1) L. Degenhardt and others, “Global burden of disease attributable to illicit drug use and dependence: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010”

(2) Disability-adjunsted life years: a measure of overall disease burden which encompasses both the years of potential life lost due to premature death and the years of life lived with disability