25 June 2003

World Drug Trends: UN Sees Major Changes

VIENNA, 25 June (UN Information Service) --  The world heroin and cocaine markets are showing major new tendencies, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states in its 2003 Global Illicit Drug Trends Report, launched in Paris today. On the production side, some good news is forthcoming from the two major illicit drug-producing regions. On the abuse side, important developments have taken place, especially in Europe, Russia and the Far East.

In the Golden Triangle -- areas under opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar and Lao PDR have been reduced by 40 per cent between 1998 and 2002, and this downward trend continues in 2003. Globally, compared to the bumper harvest of 1999, opium-production in 2002 was some 22 per cent lower.  The other good news comes from the Andean region, where Colombia has achieved a very significant decline of coca bush cultivation, amounting to a 37 per cent decrease between 2000 and 2002; Bolivia has become an almost marginal source; and Peru has reduced coca cultivation by about 60 per cent since 1995. Potential global cocaine production has declined from 950 tons in 1996 to 800 tons in 2002; further declines are expected in 2003.

"If the current reduction of opium cultivation is sustained, the Golden Triangle could well become a minor source of narcotics in the next few years. We are also pleased about the major reduction in the world cocaine supply," Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNODC, said during his presentation of the report.

This annual publication, released on the occasion of tomorrow's International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, contains comprehensive statistics on both the supply of and demand for illicit drugs, as well as an analysis of the meaning of these data.

The report also highlights some negative developments. "Growth of opium-production in Afghanistan has increased the heroin market in the region and, further, in Central Asia, the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been expanding at an alarming rate due mainly to the increase in intravenous heroin abuse," Mr. Costa said.

Two recent meetings, the G-8 Foreign Ministers' meeting held in Paris on 22 May and the UN Security Council debate of 17 June, which both focused on the drug threat originating from Afghanistan, have resulted in a renewed commitment to help the country eliminate its drug economy.

"What is needed is much greater political, security and financial capital than presently available to assist the rural areas affected by opium-production and, above all, improved Central Government ability to implement the opium-production ban," Mr. Costa said.

The UNODC report confirms the emergence of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) -- synthetic drugs that include amphetamine, metamphetamine and Ecstasy -- as the "Public Enemy Number One" among illicit drugs.

"Unlike the traditional plant-based drugs, the production of ATS starts with readily-available chemicals, in easily concealed laboratories. This makes an assessment of the location, extent and evolution of the production of such illicit drugs extremely difficult," Mr. Costa said. "Above all, and this

is very worrisome, too many people seem to condone the abuse of synthetic drugs, increasing their acceptability in society," he added.

UNODC is presently undertaking a global survey, which will shed more light on the ATS situation worldwide.

"I invite governments to urgently fill the data gaps on production, trafficking and abuse of ATS in order to extend necessary measures to reduce demand and improve treatment worldwide," Mr. Costa said.

The UN report registers major changes in patterns of drug abuse worldwide: some positive trends are mixed with poor results, especially in transition countries.

Heroin abuse has declined in East Asia, Oceania and Western Europe, but has continued to increase in countries located on the Afghanistan-Russia-Eastern Europe heroin-trafficking route.

Cocaine abuse continued to increase in Western Europe and South America, while generally declining in North America.

The metamphetamine epidemic appears to be spreading in South-East Asia, while abuse has stabilized in Japan. Amphetamine consumption seems to be declining in Western Europe, at least as shown by seizures data, but continued to increase in Eastern and Northern Europe.  Most countries reporting on Ecstasy saw increasing levels of abuse.

UNODC's annual Global Illicit Drug Trends Reports, along with UNODC surveys for all major drug-producing countries, help build a knowledge base for more effective international drug control.

"Empirical evidence is the only realistic basis for policy-making. This report, by presenting what we know, and by showing what we don't know, contributes to building the knowledge base for a better policy," Mr. Costa said.

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