New markets for synthetic drugs

9 September 2008 - UNODC's new Global Amphetamine-Type Stimulants Assessment Report warns that synthetic drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine - the drugs of modern times - are becoming more popular in developing countries. The report documents a spread of these drugs to new markets, and notes an increased involvement of organized criminal groups in the trade.  

The majority of methamphetamine users live in East- and South-East Asia, although some increases have also been noted in other developing countries. "This is of concern," says UNODC expert Jeremy Douglas. "These are emerging, rapidly growing economies with large young populations. Young people are particularly vulnerable to methamphetamine use".

Although most synthetic drugs are still consumed in the regions where they are produced, increasing amounts are being trafficked to other areas. In the Middle East, for example, a substantial increase in ATS seizures has taken place; from 1 per cent of global totals in 2000-2001 to one-quarter of all reported seizures in 2005-2006, and in Saudi Arabia seizures of amphetamine continued to rise through 2007.

With a global market value of about US$ 65 billion, synthetic drugs are highly attractive commodities: with little initial investment, large quantities of ATS can be manufactured, and production can take place anywhere. While organized criminal groups have always been involved in the trade, the market for ATS is moving away from being a "cottage industry" with small-scale manufacturing to a more sophisticated trade led by transnational organized crime groups. These groups now often control the entire chain, from the provision of precursors, to the manufacture and trafficking of the end product.

New forms of synthetic drugs are also emerging, such as high purity crystalline methamphetamine, found in several countries of South-East Asia. "In addition to the negative health effects common to all synthetic drugs," Douglas explains, "crystalline meth can be used intravenously and has the potential to fuel the spread of HIV."

The report highlights that the spread of ATS in recent years is strongly correlated with inadequate implementation of existing regulations and a lack of resources to respond to this challenge. Developed countries with sufficient resources demonstrate a stabilization and even decrease in manufacture, trafficking and use, while more vulnerable countries are increasingly targeted by organized criminal groups.

In order to address this disparity, UNODC is today launching the first phase of the Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme, designed to reduce the world's information deficit about amphetamine-type stimulants. Initially funded by Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Thailand, the programme will work with governments - particularly in vulnerable regions - to improve their capacity to gather, analyze and share information on ATS products, their use, and trafficking routes. This information will help countries design more efficient prevention, treatment and law enforcement responses.

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Full text of the report (pdf)

Video from CNN: Amphetamine boom in Asia (external link)

Video from UNTV: Amphetamines in South-East Asia (external link)

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