A record number of people are now snorting cocaine worldwide, a United Nations report suggests.
More than 22million used the drug at least once in 2021, the latest year available, according to estimates from the agency’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
This was up five percent on the 21million the previous year and nearly a third on a decade ago. It also marked the fourth year in a row that usage has risen.
Overall, 296million people used drugs in 2021, the report found, which was up 23 percent from a decade ago.
The agency warned that the world was experiencing a ‘prolonged surge’ in supply and demand for cocaine — one of the most popular drugs in countries like the United States. They warned this ran the risk of new markets springing up in other countries.
The above graph shows how much land is being used to cultivate the coca plant, which is used to make cocaine. Estimates suggest that this is now at record levels (green line) with Colombia, Peru and Bolivia being the top growers
The above shows the estimated number of people who use cocaine globally up to the year 2020. The estimates for 2021 put the new figure at 22million
In the United States, cocaine is a Schedule II substance alongside fentanyl, methamphetamines and morphine. In the UK, it is a Class A drug — or among those with the highest potential for abuse.
Writing in their report, the UN agency warned: ‘The world is currently experiencing a prolonged surge in both supply and demand of cocaine, which is now being felt across the globe.
‘[It] is likely to spur the development of new markets beyond the traditional confines.’
The estimates were generated using data on cocaine use that was reported by more than a dozen countries to the agency.
The agency did not say whether they thought this was likely to be an underestimate.
The report said the bulk of the cocaine market is in the Americas, where the top manufacturers Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are based.
But it has also found a large market in Western and Central Europe as well as Australia.
Markets are also growing quickly, albeit from low levels, in Africa, Asia and South-Eastern Europe.
It was the most used drug in countries including the UK, Canada, Australia and France.
In the United States, it was the most used drug behind cannabis — which is federally illegal but has been decriminalized in many states.
The report also said that there was a record amount of agricultural land now being turned over for growing the coca plant, which is used to make cocaine.
Estimates suggested that 315,000 hectares are now used for this plant, while total production reached 2,304 tons. Both figures are record highs.
The amount of cocaine sezied was 2,026 tons in 2021, with the agency saying that the growth in these was outpacing that in production.
The above shows cocaine seizures by their size across the world. Most are in South America and across Europe
This shows the estimated supply of cocaine that is available when seizures are removed from production figures
In the cocaine supply chain, farmers sell their leaves to drug cartels which process them in a ‘super-lab’ where they use acid to extract the cocaine compound.
This is then smuggled to market either as a white powder or via hiding it in other items such as charcoal and some plastics — from which it can be extracted.
In the United States, cocaine is the second most popular drug behind only cannabis.
There was a surge in usage of the drug leading up to 2002, amid higher availability and fewer seizures according to addiction center FHE Health in Florida.
But it then began to drop off, reaching a low point between 2012 and 2016, before rising slightly and then flatlining at more than a million people per year.
America is currently battling a drug crisis driven by cocaine, heroin and other drugs being laced with fentanyl, a powerful sedative that is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
The roots of America’s drug crisis can be traced back to the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies began aggressively marketing opioid painkillers as a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain.
The companies convinced doctors that the risk of addiction was low, prompting them to write prescriptions for millions of Americans.
When these ran out many eventually turned to the black market to keep taking the drugs because they had become addicted, with many turning to heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative.
This spawned today’s crisis when supplies of drugs like heroin began to be laced with fentanyl by manufacturers.