The Use of Addictive Drugs
Who uses drugs, and why?
MOST drug users live in the poor world, not the rich. Countries such as China and Pakistan in the case of heroin, and Colombia (South America's second most populous country) in the case of cocaine, have local traditions of drug use and vast uprooted urban populations to provide expanding markets. In future, growth will be concentrated in developing countries and the former Soviet Union. At present, the markets with the big money are in the rich world, where the mark-ups between import and sales prices are highest. Here, not surprisingly, most people buy the drugs that have the fewest side effects and are least likely to cause addiction. In that respect, drug users seem to behave as rationally as other consumers.
Everywhere, the most widely used drug by far is cannabis. At some point or another, about half the people under 40 in America have probably tried it. In time, as many adults in the rich world may have sampled cannabis as have tried alcohol. In many social groupings, especially in large cities, using cannabis has already become more or less normal behavior. Other drugs are becoming part of the normal weekly pattern of life in some social circles. Amphetamines and cocaine, like cannabis, are mostly taken sporadically, and are used far more heavily by the young than by the middle-aged.
Most drug users, like those clubbers, are occasional dabblers. A 1997 survey of western German drug users sets the tone: just under 80% of cannabis users take the drug no more than once a week, and almost half take it fewer than ten times a year. With ecstasy and cocaine, users indulge even less often. With drugs, as with alcohol, a minority of users tends to account for the bulk of consumption. In America, for instance, 22% of users account for 70% of use. Heroin use is probably even more dominated by frequent or dependent users. Most drug users, it seems, understand the risks they are taking, and...