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The 10 Most Wasted Countries

Which country's people drink the most booze, snort the most coke, and pop the most pills?

The following article first appeared on The Fix. 

1. Iran: Heroin

Sandwiched between Afghanistan and the West, Iran is smack bang in the middle of a major opiate smuggling route, and this has impacted upon the country’s growing drug problem. Since the revolution, the number of heroin addicts in Iran has risen sharply to an official estimate of around 3.5 million. Hossein Dejakam, a former addict who set up the Aftab Society, believes a lack of professional expertise is one of the factors contributing to wide spread abuse. “We don’t have a single expert on addiction,” he says. Instead, the government relies heavily on NGO’s like Narcotics Anonymous and the Aftab Society to help educate addicts, offer support, and provide needle exchange and methadone substitutes

2. UK: Alcohol

Anyone who’s ever been out for a “quick drink” with a Brit can attest to the fact that an Englishman’s attitude about recreational drinking differs radically from that of the rest of the world. According to the BBC, alcohol is thought to be responsible for 34,000 deaths in the UK each year because of the damage it does to the body—plus many more because of the indirect effect of alcohol. Also, binge drinking is a huge phenomenon in the UK, costing the economy approximately £20 billion a year. Seventeen million working days a year are estimated to be lost due to hangovers and drink-related illness. The cost of binge drinking to employers is estimated to be £6.4 billion and alcohol harm is thought to cost the National Health Service £2.7 billion. The reasons why the UK has such a chronic problem range from the social and cultural—you rarely see a Brit relaxing without a glass in hand—to the fact that alcohol is punitively cheap and available. The UK loves to live in denial: even public health message boards carry blatantly optimistic articles declaring that “the real problem is that people don't actually know how much they are—or should be—drinking.”

3. France: Prescription pills

Apparently, despite their love of fine wine, the French don’t binge drink like the Brits because they hate hangovers. They do, however, seem to like their tranquilizers, which has led commentators to suggest that the nation may have a surplus of prescription-happy practitioners. It’s undeniable that France has more pharmacies per person than any other European country—23,271 for about 60 million people, almost double the number in the United Kingdom (which has a similar population). France almost topples  the US problem with prescription medication abuse by consuming 78 tranquilizers and antidepressants per 1,000 people. 

4. Slovakia: Inhalants

With 13% of drug users regularly abusing inhalants, Slovakia comes out top of the charts for its incidents of huffing. Through a study of Roma youth, researcher Peter Vazan found that easy access to toluene, a paint thinner, increased the incidence of abuse, and concluded that the current treatment is ineffective. He found a link between poverty, lack of social mobility, discrimination, social prejudice and availability of toluene. The 2001 documentary Children Underground also highlighted similar problems in the Romany Youth of Romania.

5. Russia: Alcohol

Government revenue in Russia has been dependent on alcohol for centuries, which certainly doesn’t help the country’s enormous problems with alcoholism. Official statistics state that there are about seven million alcoholics in Russia, though experts suspect the number to be much higher. A study in The Lancet examined deaths between 1990 and 2001 of residents of three Siberian industrial towns with typical mortality rates; 52% of those between the ages of 15 and 54 were found to be the result of alcohol abuse. In June, 2009, the Public Chamber of Russia reported “over 500,000 alcohol-related deaths annually, noting that Russians consume about 18 liters of spirits a year”—more than double the eight liters that World Health Organization experts consider dangerous.

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