The surprising geography of opioid use around the world

The pattern of opioids use varies widely around the world. In the United States, one daily dose of opioids was prescribed for every 20 people from 2013-15. In similarly wealthy Japan, one daily dose was prescribed for every 800 people over the same period.

As part of international drug-control conventions, countries report the use of narcotics—like opioids, cocaine, and cannabis—for legal medicinal and scientific use to the United Nations each year. Opioids include such drugs as morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl. (Heroin is also an opioid, but is not reported on here because it is not used legally.)

The UN’s 2017 report on narcotic use reveal that the US, currently facing a crisis of opioid overuse, is an extreme outlier. US opioid use is the highest of any country in the world, and more than 50% higher than Germany, the second-ranked country of the twenty most populous countries.

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