21 February 2001
Not for use before 00:01 GMT

16 February 2001


NEW YORK, 16 February (UN Headquarters) -- Cannabis continues to be North America’s most widely used illicit drug, and its cultivation is one of the most challenging issues in the field of drug control, according to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) report for the year 2000, to be released worldwide on 21 February. At the same time, the abuse of MDMA, or Ecstasy, has rapidly increased in North America.

In the United States, heroin abuse has declined overall, the report also notes, although the mean age of first-time abusers has decreased since 1995. While the overall level of cocaine abuse has remained unchanged, among adolescents it decreased by 14 per cent from 1998 to 1999. Measures taken to educate people about the harmful consequences of drug abuse are identified as having contributed to this downward trend.

The spread of hydroponically-grown cannabis, with a high THC content, in parts of the United States and Canada remains a major concern to law enforcement agencies, the report states. In Canada, annual production of illicit cannabis appears to be around 800 tons, more than 60 per cent of which may enter the illicit market in the United States. Though efforts to eradicate cannabis have been made by law enforcement agencies in Canada, the impact of those efforts has been reduced by Canadian courts giving lenient sentences to cannabis growers and couriers.

Mexico continues to be a major source of cannabis in North America. Cooperation has continued among the North American countries in their efforts to fight drug abuse and illicit trafficking. In the year 2000, cannabis seizures on the Pacific coast of both Mexico and the United States increased, as did seizures of cocaine and heroin along the common border of Mexico and the United States.

The Board highlights the growing concern over the rapid spread and abuse of MDMA (Ecstasy) in North America. In some provinces of Canada, a sharp increase in the number of deaths related to MDMA (Ecstasy) has been recorded. In the United States, where the substance is smuggled into the country from Europe, seizures have increased by 700 per cent since 1997.

As the manufacture of MDMA (Ecstasy) is relatively uncomplicated, the Board predicts that the illicit manufacture of the substance may emerge in the United States as a result of the increase in the domestic demand. In Canada, MDMA (Ecstasy) laboratories have already been detected in middle-class suburban neighbourhoods, often run by people with no criminal records or connections.

Among other drugs, cocaine abuse remains at a much lower level in Mexico than in Canada and the United States, but appears to be increasing, the Board notes. There has also been a noticeable increase in the abuse of heroin in some Mexican cities close to the United States border and in the abuse of cocaine and "crack" in Mexico City.

A main theme of this year's report is the widespread and increasing overuse, particularly in developed countries, of controlled drugs to treat psychological problems caused by social pressures. In the United States, the report also notes a sharp increase in prescription of psychoactive drugs for children under the age of six. The Board cautions that excessive availability of controlled drugs can easily lead to the development of new patterns of drug abuse.

Among the factors that the Board suggests contribute to the oversupply of controlled substances are inadequate regulations, improper and unethical prescription practices, and aggressive marketing techniques that in some countries are addressed not only to physicians but also the public, disregarding restrictions on advertising of drugs. "Direct advertisement frequently portrays drugs as common consumer goods, thus encouraging higher drug consumption", the report says. The Board also expresses concern that the Internet is becoming a growing source of on-line trafficking where on-line drugstores and pharmacies illegally provide prescription drugs.

For further information, contact Laufey Love, United Nations Department of Public Information, Telephone: (1-212) 963-5851 or (1-212) 963-3771; Fax: (1-212) 963-1186; e-mail: love@un.org.

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