Heroin overdoses could increase significantly due to higher Afghan opium crop, UN drugs chief warns

VIENNA, 5 October (UNODC) -  The world's health authorities should prepare for a significant increase in the number of deaths from heroin overdoses following a dramatic surge in opium production in Afghanistan this year, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, warned.

In a letter sent to nearly 90 health ministers this week, he said past experience showed that a sharp rise in the supply of heroin tended to lead to an increase in the purity of the end product rather than lower street prices.

"The abundant supply of Afghan heroin is likely to result in dramatic increases in the purity of street heroin," Mr Costa said. "This, in turn, is likely to prompt a substantial increase in the number of deaths by overdose as addicts are not used to injecting doses containing such high concentrations of the drug."

UNODC's 2006 Afghan Opium Survey, published last month, showed that illicit opium production in Afghanistan was a record 6,100 tons this year, an increase of 49 per cent on 2005. Afghanistan accounts for 92 per cent of total world supply of opium.

Warning that the increase represented a very severe health threat, Mr Costa said: "I therefore strongly encourage you, the local health authorities and the community drug treatment centres in your country to take every possible measure in the period ahead and to alert practitioners to the possible risk increase."

For further information, please contact:

Richard Murphy
UNODC Spokesman
Tel +43 1 26060 5761
Mobile +43 699 1459 5761
E-mail: richard.murphy@unodc.org

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