Illegal drug use and production falls globally

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

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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.

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.

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"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.

As the drug trade continues to boom in places like Afghanistan, Reuters reports that Africa may be at risk of becoming the "crossroads of international drug crime."

"There are warning signs that Africa is also under attack, targeted by cocaine traffickers from the west – Colombia – and heroin smugglers in the east -- Afghanistan," the report said.
"This threat needs to be addressed quickly to stamp out drug-related crime, money-laundering and corruption, and to prevent the spread of drug use that could cause havoc across a continent already plagued by other tragedies."

The release of the new drug report coincides with the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a day created by the UN "as an expression of its determination to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse." In recognition of the awareness day, nations from around the world have renewed their pledge to continue fighting illegal drugs.

Vietnamese officials announced the start of a three-year antidrug campaign that will utilize a UN slogan to encourage citizens to consider negative consequences before they begin using drugs, reports Viet Nam News. Already, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has taken a hard line against drug users, ordering an intense crackdown from May 26 to Sept. 26.

The campaign is aimed at calling all people, including the 23mil students nationwide, to respond to the UN slogan "Do drugs control your life? Your Life, Your Community. No Place for Drugs."
The slogan will be used for three years for a campaign focused on different aspects of drug control: drug abuse in 2007, drug cultivation and production in 2008 and illegal drug trafficking in 2009.

The Sangai Express reports that in Imphal, India, the Committee on Anti-Drug and Alcohol organized a weeklong festival in honor of the UN day against drug abuse. Events will include a march, where locals will carry torches, as well as a motorcycle rally.

In Azerbaijan, the Azeri-Press Agency reports that Baku, the nation's capital, hosted a conference in honor of the UN-sponsored day, saying that it was important to raise youth awareness.

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