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Illegal drug use and production falls globally

A United Nations report shows progress, but targets Afghanistan as a particular problem.

By / June 26, 2007

A United Nations (UN) report released on Monday shows that, globally, illicit drug use, production has declined. But it fingers a key trouble spot: Afghanistan, which has nearly doubled its opium production since a decade ago and last year pushed global yields to a record high.

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According to Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the amount of land globally devoted to producing coca fell by 29 percent to about 156,900 hectares between 2000 and 2006[PDF]. A sharp drop in Colombian production was the main reason.

The US has seen a dip in cocaine usage, though Europe has seen a slight uptick. Still, The New York Times reports, the UN's data indicate that on virtually every level the illegal drug trade is receding, prompting Mr. Costa to say that efforts to contain the problem appear to be working.

"For almost all drugs – cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines – there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of production, trafficking or consumption," he said, commenting on the agency's annual drug report that was released Monday.
In a telephone interview from the agency's Vienna headquarters, Mr. Costa said, "The general message of this report is that we have some pretty robust evidence that containment, a word we first used in 2004, is becoming a trend, though we need in the next few years to prove that it is statistically and logically strong."
"It still could be a fluke," he said, "but we hope to prove that it's now cyclical."

Based on information from 2005-06, the report indicates that among 15 to 64 year olds around the world, almost 5 percent, or about 200 million people, use illegal drugs. The Financial Times reports that "problem drug users"-- heroin and cocaine addicts -- total 25 million.

Heroin and cocaine use globally appears to have stabilised, though the report says declining cocaine consumption in the US has been offset by alarming increases in Europe. Meanwhile, cannabis production and consumption have leveled off for the first time in decades.
On the supply side there has been a steady increase in drug seizures, last year accounting for an estimated 42 per cent of global cocaine production and 26 per cent of heroin.

The situation in Afghanistan stands in stark contrast to the apparent progress in the fight against narcotics elsewhere around the world. The BBC reports that the troubled country now accounts for about 90 percent of the world's opium (used to make heroin). Despite the presence of more than 30,000 international troops there, opium production managed to climb substantially. In the 1980s, Afghanistan was responsible for 30 percent of the world's opium. That figure has now more than tripled. Helmand Province alone produces more opium than entire countries, says the report's author, Thomas Pietschmann.

"The province of Helmand itself is around 70,000 hectares under cultivation, which is three times the total area under cultivation in Myanmar (Burma).
"So only one province, three times as important as the whole of Myanmar, the second-largest opium-producing country," Mr Pietschmann says.