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Overall global drug use prevalence stable, some regions increasing, UNODC World Drug Report 2014

Bangkok (Thailand), 26 June 2014 - Drug use prevalence is stable around the world, according to the 2014 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with around 243 million individuals, or 5 per cent of the world's population aged 15-64 having used illicit drugs in the past year. Problem drug users meanwhile numbered about 27 million, roughly 0.6 per cent of the world's adult population, or 1 in every 200 people.

Launching the report in locations including Vienna, Bangkok and Yangon today, UNODC appealed for a stronger focus on the health and human rights of all drug users, but particularly for those who inject drugs. "There remain serious gaps in service provision. In recent years only one in six drug users globally has had access to or received drug dependence treatment services each year," said Mr. Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, stressing that some 200,000 drug-related deaths had occurred in 2012.

In Bangkok, UNODC introduced the World Drug Report 2014 to media, members of the diplomatic corps and Thai Government and local partners at Thailand's Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB). Mr. Tun Nay, Mr. Tun Nay Soe, Programme Coordinator, Global SMART Programme (East Asia), UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, presented the Report's key findings. Ms. Rachanikorn Sarasiri, ONCB Deputy Secretary-General, reviewed the ONCB and Thailand's drug control efforts.

The UNODC said sustainable success in drug control required firm international commitment. A balanced and comprehensive approach addressing both supply and demand should be backed up by evidence-based responses focusing on prevention, treatment, social rehabilitation and integration. "This is particularly important as we move towards the Special Session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in 2016," Mr. Fedotov stated in Vienna. He also stressed that controlled substances should be made more widely available for medical purposes, including for ensuring access to pain medication, while preventing their misuse and diversion for illicit ends.

The surge in opium production in Afghanistan represented a setback with the area under cultivation rising by 36 per cent from 154,000 hectares in 2012 to 209,000 hectares in 2013. Afghanistan produces some 5,500 tons or up to 80 per cent of global opium production. In Myanmar, the area under opium poppy cultivation covered 57,800 hectares, continuing increases in cultivation that started after 2006. In 2013, the global production of heroin rebounded to levels last witnessed in 2008 and 2011.

The US, some European, Asian and Australasian countries have seen users switching between heroin and pharmaceutical painkillers, a trend largely dictated by low prices and accessibility; whereas dependent opioid users in the US are switching from pharmaceutical opioids to heroin, users in some European countries are replacing heroin with synthetic opioids.

The global availability of cocaine fell as production has declined since 2007. Cocaine use remained high in North America, although it has decreased in recent years. While cocaine consumption and trafficking appear to be increasing in South America, Africa has witnessed emerging cocaine use due to the rise in trafficking through that continent, and greater spending power has made some Asian countries more vulnerable to cocaine use.

Globally, cannabis use seems to be down but a perception of lower health risks has led to more consumption in North America. Although it is too early to understand the effects of new regulatory frameworks making the recreational use of cannabis legal in some states of the US and Uruguay under certain conditions, more people are seeking treatment for cannabis-related disorders in most regions in the world, including North America.

Seizures of methamphetamine more than doubled globally in the last three years. Methamphetamine manufacture expanded once again in North America, with a large increase in the number of meth laboratories dismantled in the US and Mexico. Of the 144 tons of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) seized globally, half were intercepted in North America and a quarter in East and South-East Asia. The number of unregulated new psychoactive substances on the global market more than doubled to 348 from 2009 to 2013.

In East and Southeast Asia, methamphetamine use continued to increase in most countries. Production at high levels led to record regional seizures of nearly 230 million methamphetamine pills and 11.6 metric tonnes of crystalline methamphetamine last year. Heroin remains a major drug of concern in several countries in the region including China, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam. After showing a dramatic increase between 2008 and 2011, heroin seizures levelled off in 2012 and 2013 suggesting a stable trend, but remain at a very high levels with a little over 9 metric tonnes seized per year. These seizures coincide with rebounding opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle where increases year-on-year have been reported since 2006, and cultivation stands at over 60,000 hectares.

"The drug market in East and Southeast Asia is dynamic and indications are it is expanding significantly," said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, at a World Drug Report presentation in Yangon. "States in the region continue to struggle with the law enforcement, justice and health implications, and need to be supported by the global community."

The globalization of the chemical trade has made it easier to divert chemicals from legal to illegal uses. Although the control of precursors, the chemicals needed to manufacture drugs, has curbed diversion to some extent, UNDOC estimates that authorities intercepted only 15 per cent of diverted acetic anhydride, used to manufacture heroin, and 15 per cent of potassium permanganate, used to produce cocaine. At the same time, more than twice as much methamphetamine and amphetamine precursor chemicals were seized than the drugs themselves. In Afghanistan, acetic anhydride prices rose to USD 430 per litre in 2011, up from USD 8 in 2002, but only cost USD 1.50 per litre in the world's licit markets.

East and Southeast Asia and South Asia continued to be a source of supply of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine used in illicit manufacture of methamphetamine in the region and other parts of the world. At the same time, Asia has increasing numbers of intermediary companies providing opportunity for diversion. The largest portion of licit precursor chemical export in Asia were by the Republic of Korea, followed by Japan, Singapore, Thailand, China and India.

"Countries in the region and international partners need to significantly scale-up cooperation and technical assistance in precursor control," said Mr. Douglas.

As progress has been made in tracking down precursors, criminals have turned to new tactics, such as creating front companies and diverting precursors within countries to circumvent international controls. New unregulated "pre-precursors" have rapidly emerged as substitutes for the controlled precursors used to produce synthetic drugs like methamphetamine. UNODC urged vigilance.

"Monitoring global chemical flows is especially important with the rising manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, which cannot be controlled with traditional supply reduction approaches like crop eradication," said Mr. Douglas. "A robust international control system must remain a key supply control strategy."