UN warns that global progress on illegal drugs is under threat

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

26 June 2008 – A surge in opium and coca cultivation and the risk of higher drug use in developing countries threaten to undermine recent progress in drug control, according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“Recent major increases in drug supply from Afghanistan and Colombia may drive addiction rates up, because of lower prices and higher purity of doses,” Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, said today in a statement.

The report says the world’s illegal opium production has almost doubled since 2005 and that Afghanistan registered a record opium harvest in 2007. Some 80 per cent of cultivation took place in provinces controlled by Taliban insurgents.

A similar pattern was noted in Colombia where coca cultivation increased by 27 per cent in 2007 – which was still 40 per cent below the peak reached in 2000 – with 5 per cent of the country’s municipalities accounting for almost half of all cocaine production.

“In Colombia, just like in Afghanistan, the regions where most coca is grown are under the control of the insurgents,” Mr. Costa observed, but he added that the Colombian Government’s campaign against drug traffickers had successfully destroyed large-scale coca plots.

Worldwide, the report found that fewer than one in 20 people had tried illegal drugs in the last 12 months and that there were 26 million people with severe dependence – about 0.6 per cent of the planet’s adult population.

The global cannabis market is stable or even slightly down. Cannabis herb production is estimated to be 8 per cent lower than in 2004 and cannabis resin production declined by some 20 per cent between 2004 and 2006. Despite this, the report says there are some worrying trends, with Afghanistan becoming a major producer of cannabis resin, possibly surpassing Morocco.

Meanwhile, in developed countries, indoor production is resulting in more potent strains of cannabis herb. The average level of the drug’s psychoactive substance almost doubled in the US market between 1999 and 2006.

Use of amphetamine-type stimulants, like methamphetamine and ecstasy, has levelled off globally since 2000, but production and consumption remain a major problem in East and South-East Asia, and markets are beginning to develop in the Near and Middle East.

The report finds that there has been a systematic shift away from the major drug routes, particularly for cocaine. Because of steady demand for cocaine in Europe and improved interdiction along traditional routes, drug traffickers have targeted West Africa.

“States in the Caribbean, Central America and West Africa, as well as border regions of Mexico, are caught in the crossfire between the world’s biggest coca producers (the Andean countries) and biggest consumers (North America and Europe),” Mr. Costa warned. “Drug money corrupts governments, and even turns into terrorist financing: promotion of the rule of law is the best way to fight the drug trade.”

Assessing organized international attempts to control drugs, this year’s “World Drug Report” shows that global opium production is 70 per cent lower than a hundred years ago.

“Drug statistics show that the drug problem was dramatically reduced over the past century, and has stabilized over the past 10 years,” Mr. Costa said.

In a related development, a study on drug consumption in six South American countries has found that marijuana is the most widely used drug, mainly among the young population. The average consumption rate in the six countries studied – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador – was 4.8 per cent, higher than the world average of 3.9 per cent. In all countries consumption was higher among men than women and was concentrated in the 15 to 34 age group.

The study, which was carried out by UNODC and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, found that cocaine was the second most consumed drug in 2007, with an average prevalence of 1.4 per cent.

For the three main types of drugs studied - marijuana, cocaine and cocaine base – the report says that a high percentage of consumers in the six countries showed signs of dependency.

“These results clearly illustrate the power of addiction these drugs have, with foreseeable negative consequences. Not only in the personal, family and social context, but also with regard to most of the countries' health systems, where it would be quite challenging to satisfy a massive demand for treatment,” the report concludes.


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