02 November 2006

UN Drugs Executive Director Tells Europe to Wake up to its Cocaine Problem

VIENNA, 2 November 2006 (UN Information Service) -- At a meeting in London today to launch a campaign on shared responsibility and the global problem of illicit drugs, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, warned Europe that it was heading for a cocaine crisis. 

In addressing the meeting, sponsored by the Government of Colombia, Mr. Costa observed that in most of the world, demand for cocaine was stable or even dropping. Coca cultivation had been slashed by a quarter in the past five years. Seizures of cocaine had almost doubled during that period. He noted that "an astounding 42 per cent of all cocaine produced was seized in 2005".

But this drug control progress was being undercut by an upward trend in cocaine abuse in Europe, particularly in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The level of cocaine use in Spain - which was 3 per cent among those aged 15 to 64 - now exceeded (for the first time ever) levels of cocaine use in the United States. And the United Kingdom was not far behind. In 2005, annual prevalence for cocaine use there was 2.4 per cent, up from 0.6 per cent a decade earlier. Ten years ago, in Spain 7 per cent of all new clients entering treatment for drug abuse were addicted to cocaine. In 2002 it was 42 per cent: "I would bet that the proportion has continued to rise since then", said Mr. Costa.   "Wake up Europe! You are heading for a crisis", warned Mr. Costa. He said that both addicts and governments were in denial. "Cocaine users are not only harming themselves and, potentially, others. They are contributing to the destruction of the environment, and bankrolling drug traffickers, insurgents and terrorists. Keep that in mind next time you think a line of coke is trendy and harmless."

He said that Europe had a credibility problem when telling Andean countries to reduce supply since the drug habits of Europeans were creating the demand that drives coca cultivation. In agreement with the host of the meeting, Vice President of Colombia, Francisco Santos, Mr. Costa said that it was time to get serious about assuming a shared responsibility for the drug problem, for example by providing more assistance to coca farmers in order to encourage sustainable alternative development.

The head of UNODC cautioned that supply control was not enough. Even if all 900-odd tons of Andean cocaine were seized this year, as many tons would be produced next year. And even if Andean farmers gave up all their coca crops, demand by the world's 13 million cocaine addicts would generate as much cultivation somewhere else.

"Plainly speaking", concluded Mr. Costa, "the mother of all drug control challenges is drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation." He said this too was a shared responsibility for the entire community and that drugs were too big a problem to be left to drug experts.

Mr. Costa's complete statement is available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/speech_2006_11_02.html

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For further information, please contact:

Preeta Bannerjee
Public Information Officer, UNODC
Tel: +43 126060 5764
Mobile: +43 699 1459 5764 
E-mail: preeta.bannerjee@unodc.org