Global drug abuse rates holding steady, finds UN report

26 June 2007

The production, trafficking and consumption of most illegal drugs remained steady last year, and law enforcement agencies are becoming more successful in their fight against the scourge, according to a United Nations report released today.

Launching the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2007 World Drug Report, issued to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said the latest findings should dispel recent fears that the world was headed for an epidemic of drug abuse.

“There is some grounds for optimism that the runaway train of drug addiction has slowed down,” Mr. Costa said in a message marking the Day, with the market for nearly all major drugs – including cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines – falling or remaining stable in 2005-06.

Coca cultivation in the Andes, a major production region, continues to decline, the report found, and global cocaine consumption has also stabilized, although a reduction in the United States has been offset by what UNODC described as an alarming increase in Europe.

The prevalence of amphetamine-type stimulants, such as ecstasy, is also steady or in retreat in many countries, while there has been no rise – for the first time in decades – in the production or consumption of cannabis.

“The much greater number of pot smokers seeking treatment shows that the new strains of high-potency cannabis make people sick, not high,” Mr. Costa said, while cautioning that authorities worldwide cannot afford to ease off in their efforts to restrict or eliminate illicit drug use.

He noted that opium production remains an enormous problem in Afghanistan, where more than 90 per cent of the world’s supply is cultivated and the number of local addicts is on the rise. In one Afghan province alone, Helmand, more opium is cultivated than in the rest of the country combined or in Myanmar or Colombia.

“Effective surgery on Helmand’s drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bringing security to the region,” Mr. Costa said.

The report noted that law enforcement agencies are improving in their efforts to carry out drug seizures; more than 45 per cent of the world’s cocaine is being intercepted and at least 25 per cent of the world’s heroin, up from 24 per cent and 15 per cent respectively in 1999.

In response, many traffickers are seeking new routes, particularly in Africa, and Mr. Costa stressed that this threat must be stamped out quickly with coordinated attack on organized crime, money laundering and corruption.

He added that if the drug problem is to be reduced in the longer-term, governments must turn more towards preventative measures that tackle the problem at the source – drug users.

“The lives of at least one out of every 200 people in the world are ruled by drugs. Drug addiction is an illness that must, and can be prevented and treated,” he said, calling for early detection tests, better therapies and the integration of drug treatment into public health and social services programmes.

In his message marking the Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged countries to devote more time and effort to reducing demand and not just to reducing supply.

“With less demand, there would be less need for supply, and fewer incentives for criminals to traffic drugs,” he said, calling for a collective effort from politicians, health-care and social workers, the media, the criminal justice system, teachers and parents to combat drug abuse.