The head of the United Nations anti-narcotics agency today stressed the importance of preventive and therapeutic action before drug abuse becomes a health, social and financial burden.
"Every dollar invested in treatment and prevention saves a multiple - $7 to $10 - for drug-related crime and health costs," Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, an annual gathering of grass-roots and volunteer organizations involved in efforts to reduce drug abuse and its impact on societies worldwide.
"But it is not only a matter of money," he added. "Treatment and rehabilitation reduce drug abuse, improve health and the social functioning of people. The risk of infectious diseases is lower, and so is crime."
On current trends in global illicit drugs production and trafficking, Mr. Costa noted that major decreases have been seen over the past few years in the cultivation of opium in the Golden Triangle and of coca in the Andean region. At the same time, new threats such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic continue to be fuelled by drug abuse, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as an increase in production and trafficking of synthetic drugs.
Mr. Costa insisted on the importance of drug abuse prevention, warning that "as long as demand persists at over 450 tons per year of heroin and almost twice the amount of cocaine, these substances would be produced somewhere - whether Afghanistan, Colombia or elsewhere."
As for the effectiveness of prevention measures, Mr. Costa pointed to a recent paradoxical development - in certain rich countries, where a consensus emerged on tightening regulations against tobacco use, there are small, vocal and well-funded groups advocating the relaxation of drug controls.
"Just as in the case of tobacco, drug abuse prevention needs to involve society at-large: schools, sports centres, work places, media, leisure settings, courts, life insurance policies, places of faith and, above all, family," he said, noting that this consensus approach has produced tangible results against tobacco as smokers are on the defensive and public support for banning smoking is asserting itself more and more.
"We need the same consensus against drug abuse," he added.