23 September 2003


Global survey on ecstasy and amphetamines reveals alarming abuse and trafficking patterns

VIENNA/ROME, 23 September (UN Information Service)  --  The first-ever UN global survey on ecstasy and amphetamines, released in Rome today, reveals a striking picture of increase in production, trafficking and abuse of synthetic drugs worldwide:  

  • Over the last decade, the seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) have risen tenfold from about 4 tons in 1990/91 to almost 40 tons in 2000/01;
  • Estimated production has reached more than 500 tons a year;
  • Abuse is spreading at an alarming rate, with more than 40 million people having used them over the past 12 months.

  “ATS are emerging as a ‘public enemy number one’ among illicit drugs. Neglected by societies as an almost acceptable feature of the ‘let’s-have-fun’ culture in clubs and dance settings, synthetic drugs abuse begins with experimental use among mostly young people. Gradually, it may lead to dangerous polydrug use and addiction, with severe health consequences,” said Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). He was presenting the Ecstasy and Amphetamines Global Survey 2003 in a press conference, hosted by Mr. Gianfranco Fini, Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Italy at Palazzo Chigi in Rome.

“Health hazards are major and cumulative. Amphetamines may cause dependence and psychoses. Ecstasy may speed up the normal aging process, leading to Alzheimer-type symptoms. Who will assist, and pay for, a generation of abusers under-performing in schools and at work because of the impact of abuse?” Mr. Costa asked.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr. John Walters, Director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Policy in Washington D.C., stated, "Drugs rob people of their dignity and the ability to lead productive lives. The illegal drug trade brings addiction, violence, crime, and corruption to communities all over the world. This report confirms that we are now facing a wave of synthetic stimulant abuse. We look forward to working with the UN to make the shared threat of drug abuse and trafficking smaller."

The UNODC survey documents the alarming increase in the number and size of manufacturing sites, in more and more countries. Law enforcement agencies have dismantled a record number of “kitchen labs,” but there is evidence of sophisticated clandestine operations with 100-kilogramme capacities per week, an equivalent to a million Ecstasy pills, or four percent of the estimated global weekly demand. In 2001, close to 8,000 methamphetamine laboratories have been seized, mostly in the United States. The number of ecstasy laboratory seizures rose more than 6-fold over the 1991-2001 period.

ATS abuse is spreading in geographical, age and income terms. In the past 12 months, 34 million people worldwide have abused amphetamine and methamphetamine, and 8 million abused Ecstasy. This exceeds the number of cocaine and heroin abusers combined. Abuse is highest in East and South-East Asia, followed by Europe, Australia and the United States.  

The UNODC survey points to the global nature of the ATS problem. Unlike cocaine and heroin, whose production is limited by geography and climate, ATS can be produced anywhere. Currently, production is mainly in Europe and North America. Seizures of laboratories, equipment, precursors and finished products, as well as reports on abuse, indicate that the ATS market is changing in depth, breadth and shape – the survey says.


“Increasingly, clandestine operators are taking advantage of the easy transfer of technology, including the use of the Internet, in setting up labs where favourable conditions exist: access to precursor chemicals, growing demand, corrupt officials, poor law enforcement, lack of extradition and/or light sentencing. This has led to a greater involvement of criminal groups with ruthless forms of marketing,” the survey says.

Profits are driving the business. Low costs, high profits and easily camouflaged labs close to retail points make the ATS business extremely attractive to organised crime. Less than one kilogramme of ATS, sold on the illicit market, typically pays for the initial investment of setting up a small-scale laboratory. The survey estimates the ATS business value at about $65 billion a year, with profit rates ranging between 3000-4000 percent.

“The abuse of synthetic drugs risks becoming culturally sanctioned, blurring the notion of drug addiction, as parents and governments alike are confused about the severity of their impact. Especially alarming are occasional calls for some form of liberalisation of substances that have the potential to maim our youth,” Mr Costa said.

  The survey also reveals the serious health implications of chronic use of amphetamine and methamphetamine including dependence, characterised by compulsive drug seeking and psychoses. Symptoms such as confusion, delirium and panic, as well as all kinds of hallucinations follow. Worrying health implications of Ecstasy include Neurotoxicity, an early decline in mental function and memory, or the onset of Alzheimer-type symptoms.

The report reviews the production, trafficking and abuse of ATS, region by region. Methamphetamines are found to be the most intensely used in North America and East Asia, amphetamines in Europe – East and West. Ecstasy is mainly produced in Europe and consumed globally.

The report concludes on a hopeful note. Over 99 percent of humanity has no drug abuse problem. “Based on their experience, credible arguments and the right responses need to be developed to meet the new challenge. Opting out, namely – accepting any notion of the liberalisation of the market, is not an option, as the health of our society is at risk. Better safe than sorry,” Mr. Costa concluded.

ATS SEIZURES: Tenfold increase in a decade