The world is winning its long battle against the illicit trade in narcotics but further efforts are needed, especially to reduce demand, the United Nations drug tsar said today, 100 years to the day after the first-ever conference aimed at controlling drugs met in Shanghai.
A century ago around 25 million people – or 1.5 per cent of the world’s population at the time – were using opium, according to a news release issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). China faced an opium epidemic with almost one quarter of the men in the country consuming opium and around five per cent of the total population addicted to the drug.
Today, the total number of problem drug users is around 25 million – less than 0.5 per cent of the global population. The number of people who use illicit drugs at least once a year has been contained to five per cent of the world’s adult population, a much lower prevalence than for alcohol and tobacco. Deaths due to drugs are limited to 200,000 a year, which is one tenth of those killed by alcohol and 20 times less than those killed by tobacco.
“This achievement has been a century in the making. Let’s not unravel it by loosening controls on drug use,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told a gathering in Shanghai commemorating the 1909 International Opium Commission meeting.
He told the attendees, which included representatives of the 13 nations that took part in the original meeting, that 100 years ago “some national economies were as dependent on opium [for the revenue that it generated] as the addicts themselves.”
He noted that more than 40,000 tons of opium was produced in 1906, mostly in China and India, compared to less than 8,000 tons in Afghanistan, which currently accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s opium supply.
“Compared to a century ago, drug demand and supply have been brought under control,” stressed Mr. Costa, and “adherence to the international drug control regime [based on three UN treaties] is universal.”
“While the world drug problem has been contained, it has not been solved,” warned Mr. Costa, underscoring the need for more development assistance to countries where illicit crops are grown, and to those caught in the cross-fire of drug trafficking.
The 1909 conference led to the first international convention on drug control, the Hague International Opium Convention of 1912, and next month’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to be held in Vienna, will focus on the effectiveness of drug control.