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Survey Finds U.S. Leads World in Substance Abuse

The U.S. leads the world in marijuana and cocaine experimentation, as well as in lifetime tobacco use, according to a survey released this week by the World Health Organization.

For the survey, which was partially funded by a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia looked at drug, alcohol and tobacco use in 17 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. More than 54,000 people participated in the survey.

"The United States, which has been driving much of the world's drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies, as well as (in many U.S. states), a higher minimum legal alcohol drinking age than many comparable developed countries," the authors wrote in the study, which was published in the July 1 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

"The Netherlands, with a less criminally punitive approach to cannabis use than the U.S., has experienced lower levels of use, particularly among younger adults," they added.

The U.S. had the highest percentage of respondents admitting to lifetime tobacco use at 74 percent, followed by Lebanon at 67 percent, and Mexico and the Ukraine at 60 percent, according to the study.

The lowest percentages of lifetime tobacco use were found in the African countries of South Africa with 32 percent and Nigeria with 17 percent.

More U.S. respondents said they used marijuana at 42.4 percent, followed by New Zealand at 41.9 percent. Lifetime marijuana use was virtually non-existent in Asian countries, however.

Sixteen percent of U.S. survey participants said they used cocaine at least once, followed by Colombia, Mexico, Spain and New Zealand where between 4 and 4.3 percent of respondents admitted to use.

The only area where U.S. respondents trailed was in alcohol use. Almost 92 percent of U.S. respondents said they used alcohol, compared to 97 percent of Ukrainians and 95.3 percent of Germans. Just 40 percent of South African respondents used alcohol.

Click here for full survey results.