Global demand increasing for synthetic drugs, UN report finds

23 June 2011 – While global markets for cocaine, heroin and cannabis declined or remained stable, the production and abuse of prescription opioid drugs and new synthetic drugs rose, the United Nations annual drug report said today.

“The gains we have witnessed in the traditional drugs markets are being offset by a fashion for synthetic ‘designer drugs’ mimicking illegal substances,” said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which produced the World Drug Report 2011.

“The global drug threat has not diminished,” he told a press briefing.

The report said that some 210 million people, or 4.8 per cent of the global population aged between 15 and 64, took illicit substances at least once in the previous year.

The rate of overall drug use, including problem drug use, (0.6 per cent of people aged 15-64) remained stable. However, demand soared for substances not under international control, such as piperazine and cathinone.

Speaking at the report’s official launch in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that it “paints a sobering picture of the threat posed by illegal drugs.”

“Traffickers break more than the law,” he said. “They break the human spirit. They fuel terrorism and insurgency. They rob societies of peace.”

“Drug-dependent people should not be treated with discrimination; they should be treated by medical experts and counsellors,” he said. “Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime.”

Referring to the increase in the use of synthetic drugs, the report said that “non-medical use of prescription drugs is reportedly a growing health problem in a number of developed and developing countries.

“Moreover, in recent years, several new synthetic compounds have emerged in established illicit drug markets. Many of these substances are marketed as ‘legal highs’ and substitutes for illicit stimulant drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy.”

The report’s findings include:

  • The United States cocaine market has witnessed a massive decline in recent years, but continues to be the world’s largest cocaine market.
  • Cannabis remains by far the most widely produced and consumed illicit substance globally.
  • Over the past decade, cocaine consumption in Europe has doubled.
  • Market prices for cocaine have dropped appreciably since the mid-1990s.

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