Record high: Illicit drug use hits never-before-seen levels

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  • More illicit drugs are being produced and consumed than ever before, according to a new UN report
  • LGBTQ seniors say they fear discrimination in retirement homes
  • South Sudan’s warring factions have reached a “permanent ceasefire,” but hopes for a comprehensive peace deal already appear to be unravelling
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

World losing ‘war on drugs’

More illicit drugs are being produced — and more people are consuming them — than ever before, according to a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The World Drug report, released yesterday, estimates that 275 million people around the globe used illicit drugs at least once in 2016, which equates to 5.6 per cent of all 15-to-64 year-olds.

That’s up from 208 million users a decade earlier.

Anti-narcotics police test evidence as part of the seizure of more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine at the port of Buenaventura, Colombia, in August 2017. The cocaine was destined for Europe, police officials said. (Mauricio Duenas Castaneda/EPA)

Here’s how different drugs ranked in the report:

  • Most of the 2016 users —192 million — consumed cannabis.
  • Synthetic opioids and amphetamines were the second-most-popular drugs, with 34 million users each.
  • Twenty-one million people are estimated to have taken ecstasy.
  • Nineteen million used opium and its derivatives, such as morphine and heroin.
  • Eighteen million used cocaine.

At least 31 million people worldwide are said to be suffering from “drug disorders,” meaning that their level of use is harmful enough that they require medical treatment.

The report cites World Health Organization figures suggesting that some 450,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2015, with about 168,000 of those fatalities directly caused by overdoses. That marks a 60 per cent increase in overdose deaths since 2000, when 105,000 people died.

Opioids continue to be the most harmful drug, accounting for 76 per cent of all 2015 drug-related deaths, including those from hepatitis C and HIV.

Opioids continue to be the most harmful drug, accounting for 76 per cent of all 2015 drug-related deaths worldwide, according to the UN report. (George Frey/Reuters)

And the numbers are only getting worse.

In 2016, there were a record 63,632 overdose deaths in the United States — a 21 per cent spike from the year before — mostly due to fentanyl and its analogues. Canada had at least 2,861 opioid-related deaths that year, and the crisis has only worsened since then in both countries.

Just as worrying, however, are the UN’s estimates about drug production:

  • Total opium production increased by 65 per cent from 2016 to 2017.
  • Afghanistan, the world’s No. 1 producer, increased its yield by 87 per cent to 9,000 tons.
  • Poppies are being cultivated on more land — 420,000 hectares across the globe — than ever before.

Global cocaine production also increased by 25 per cent in 2016, hitting 1,410 tons, its highest level ever. Colombia alone accounted for 866 tons and the country has seen a dramatic resurgence of coca bush farming, due to a drop in eradication efforts, new strategies employed by the cartels and “market dynamics.”

Not coincidentally, cocaine use is on the rise in North America, as are deaths related to the drug.

Cannabis is the drug of choice among teens, according to the UN report. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)Meanwhile, young people are using pot — an estimated 13.8 million 15- and 16-year-olds worldwide.

But it’s older drug abusers who are the biggest problem, with use among the 40-plus set increasing at a faster rate than the younger cohorts.

The UN hypothesizes that this has to do with baby boomers, who grew up when illicit drug use was more popular and are still experimenting. In Europe, for example, the overall number of opioid users seeking treatment is declining, but the proportion of patients over the age of 40 increased from one in five in 2006 to one in three by 2013.  

People aged 50 and older now account for 39 per cent of all drug-related deaths. And 75 per cent of those fatalities are linked to opioids.

A few words on …

The millions of opioid doses that have gone “missing” in Canada:

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Hard to be ‘out’ in seniors homes

The National’s Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja spoke with LGBTQ seniors about going into long-term care, what they fear, and hard choices they say they’re going to have to make.

“I am not afraid of dying. What I am afraid of is the time from now until the time when I do die,” says David Bzdel, a 73-year-old gay man living in Toronto.

“The way I see it now, going into a seniors home is not gonna be easy. It’s not gonna be any fun,” he told us.

David Bzdel, 73, is retired. He lives in Toronto. Bzdel’s health is starting to fail and he expects he will soon have to go into care. (Nick Purdon/CBC)Asked if he worries that he’ll be treated differently because he is gay, Bzdel nods.

“I do,” he says.

After fighting for gay rights for all generations, many LGBTQ seniors say they are scared they will face discrimination in long-term care facilities in Canada.

“We are worried about the care we are gonna get, we are worried about being treated badly,” says Lezlie Lee Kham, a Toronto senior and gay rights activist.  

Lezlie Lee Kham is a senior and an LGBTQ activist. (Nick Purdon/CBC)“We worry about actual physical harm happening to us. Not only from staff, but from other residents,” she continues.

“Remember, those straight people who were harassing us and beating us back then are now our ages too, right? Now we are the same age in long-term facilities together. That kind of hatred doesn’t just disappear.”

By 2024 almost a quarter of the Canadian population will be 65 years and older. There are no firm statistics or comprehensive studies, but anecdotally LGBTQ seniors say they have to make a hard choice in what should be their golden years: Hide who they are or accept inferior care and discrimination.

  • WATCH: Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja’s feature about LGBTQ seniors tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Peace for South Sudan?

South Sudan’s warring factions have reached a “permanent ceasefire,” but hopes for a comprehensive peace deal already appear to be unravelling.

The announcement came this morning following a round of talks in Khartoum, the capital of neighbouring Sudan. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his rebel challenger Riek Machar both agreed to lay down their weapons within 72 hours.

The deal calls for the immediate opening of safe corridors for humanitarian aid, the release of prisoners and a withdrawal of all forces, with the deployment of soldiers from other African nations as peacekeepers. There would be a “unity government” for a period of three years, followed by free elections.

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, left, signs ceasefire documents alongside Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, centre, and South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, in Khartoum on Wednesday. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)Yet the divisions between the parties resurfaced within minutes of the signing ceremony. A spokesman for Machar rejected key components, including the foreign monitors and a plan to have three different capitals over the transition period to ensure that power is fairly shared.

The civil war began in December 2013, just two years after South Sudan broke away from Sudan after a prolonged conflict. Kiir accused Machar and 10 others of attempting a coup, and they fled into exile and took up arms.

The grinding power struggle between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) has killed somewhere between 50,000 and 300,000 people — estimates vary widely — and forced at least a third of the country’s 12 million citizens from their homes.

Two million South Sudanese have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, and more than 230,000 are sheltering in six UN safe zones. At least six million people are suffering from malnutrition, and aid organizations have warned of the danger of a widespread famine.

People demonstrating for peace cheer Sudan’s President Salva Kiir at the airport in Juba, South Sudan, on June 22. (Bullen Chol/Associated Press)There have been multiple ceasefires — dating back as far as January 2014 — but all have failed to hold. A peace agreement was struck in the summer of 2015, but it lasted barely a year before fighting resumed in earnest.

Both sides have been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including the indiscriminate killing of civilians, rape, torture, looting and arbitrary arrests and detentions. A recent report by Human Rights Watch found that some of the abuses might also be categorized as “crimes against humanity.” And the UN has labelled South Sudan as one of the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers, with 83 killed in country since 2013.

However, this new ceasefire seems to be related to money rather than an attack of conscience.

Earlier this month the UN Security Council set a June 30 deadline for a deal. It threatened a full arms embargo and sanctions against a half-dozen members of the South Sudanese government unless a “viable political agreement” was reached.  

Kiir, Al-Bashir and Machar hold hands in celebration after signing the peace agreement Wednesday. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)The United States has taken an increasingly hardline stance against President Kiir.

“The United States has supported South Sudan since the beginning. American taxpayers have invested more than $11 billion there since its independence,” Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, wrote in the Washington Post last month. “But we have lost patience with the status quo.”

Perhaps the message is finally getting through.

Quote of the moment

“Unfortunately, I have to say that Russian-U.S. relations are not in their best state now … I believe that, to a great extent, this is the result of a bitter internal political struggle in the U.S.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin plays the blame game during a meeting with U.S. National Security advisor John Bolton in Moscow today.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with U.S. National security advisor John Bolton during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • The politics of ‘Germany’s Texas’ pose a serious challenge for Merkel (CBC)
  • Poland Holocaust law: Government U-turn on jail threat (BBC)
  • Senate lawyers head to court in attempt to block Mike Duffy lawsuit (CBC)
  • North Korea making ‘rapid’ upgrades to nuclear reactor post-summit (Guardian)
  • U.S. Secret Service to protect Sarah Sanders (CNN)
  • Scientists built a flying robot dragon (Quartz)
  • Power surge knocks out Jasper SkyTram, stranding 160 (CBC)
  • How penguins toppled two Chilean government ministers (El Pais)

Today in history

June 27, 1975: Ed Broadbent runs for NDP leadership

Safari suits, lawn chairs, coffee klatches and smoking during a game of tug of war — the 1975 NDP leadership race certainly doesn’t look like a modern-day campaign. Ed Broadbent, the party’s house leader since David Lewis’ defeat in the 1974 election, is reluctant to take on the burden. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the front-runner. Even if many prefer Rosemary Brown, the only woman in the contest.

Can anyone stop Ed Broadbent from becoming the new leader of the NDP? 5:01

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