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‘Wake up Europe! You are heading for a crisis,’ UN drugs chief warns on cocaine

‘Wake up Europe! You are heading for a crisis,’ UN drugs chief warns on cocaine

Antonio M. Costa
Declaring that he is “not afraid to name and shame the worst offenders – Spain, England and Italy,” the United Nations top narcotics fighter warned Europe today that it is heading for a cocaine crisis, with too many governments in denial, focussing on the supply end in South America instead of consumption in their own backyards.

“The alarm clock is ringing; Europe, it is time to wake up and get going,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told an international meeting in London, sponsored by the Government of Colombia, noting that the stable or even falling demand for cocaine in most of the world is being undercut by an upward trend in Europe.

“Wake up Europe!” he reiterated. “You are heading for a crisis. We are facing a pandemic, and not only because of coca addiction by high profile entertainers, executives, models or socialites who flaunt their illicit drug use in words and deeds. This is a symptom of a deeper problem – one made worse by uncritical reporting in the media.

“What will it take to get people to take the problem seriously? A phone call from a hospital that your child or colleague has had an overdose? Or was caught in the cross-fire of a drug-related shooting? Or killed in an accident under the influence of drugs? That’s what happened in America’s cities in the 1980s, especially as coca turned into crack. If we are not careful it is coming to our neighbourhoods,” he added.

The level of cocaine use in Spain, which is 3 per cent among those aged 15 to 64, now exceeds for the first time ever that in the United States and the United Kingdom is not far behind, with annual prevalence last year 2.4 per cent up from 0.6 per cent a decade ago, he told the Dialogue on Shared Responsibility and the Global Production of Illicit Drugs.

Ten years ago, in Spain 7 per cent of all new clients entering treatment for drug abuse were addicted to cocaine while in 2002 it was 42 per cent. “I would bet that the proportion has continued to rise since then,” Mr. Costa said. “Plainly speaking, the mother of all drug control challenges is drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.”

On the other hand Sweden, which over the past three decades, has invested significantly in drug treatment and prevention, has been one of the most drug-free societies in Europe, but even there, cocaine abuse is creeping in.

Europe has a credibility problem when telling Andean countries to reduce supply since the drug habits of Europeans are creating the demand that drives coca cultivation, and it is time to get serious about assuming a shared responsibility, for example by providing more aid to coca farmers in order to encourage alternative livelihoods, he added.

“Most illicit crop growers, (Afghanistan, Colombia or Laos), live in some of the poorest communities in the world,” he said. “Crop eradication will not work over the long term if there is no legal economy to replace it. Drug control and development must therefore go hand in hand.”

Supply control is not enough, he warned. Even if all 900-odd tons of Andean cocaine were seized this year, as many tons would be produced next year. And even if Andean farmers gave up all their coca crops, demand by the world’s 13 million cocaine addicts would generate as much cultivation somewhere else.