Global illicit drug use stable but Asia battles rise in use of amphetamine-type stimulants

Bangkok (Thailand), 27 June 2012
- To mark World Drug Day (officially the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking), the UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific held an embargoed launch at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) to introduce the UNODC World Drug Report 2012. Mr. Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative, East Asia and the Pacific, presented the Report's global findings and summarized significant regional data and upcoming trends to representatives from the diplomatic corps, government and law enforcement partners, NGOs and local and international media.

"Increases in trafficking in methamphetamines and other illicit drugs coupled with the significant increase in opium poppy cultivation reflect growing human security threats to the region," said Mr. Lewis. In addition, he noted that amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are now the second most popular illicit drug after cannabis.

Mr. Lewis emphasized that while progress is being made in "containing" the world's illicit drug problem, East and Southeast Asia continue to be troubled by increases in the production of both opium and methamphetamines.

"Between 2008 and 2010, the number of meth pills seized in the region quadrupled", said Mr. Lewis. "For opium, the region's largest producer - Myanmar - source of one-fifth of the world's cultivation of poppy, we saw another annual increase, the fifth such increase in five years."

Nonetheless, Mr. Lewis says UNODC is encouraged by recent developments in Myanmar where the Government has not only increased eradication efforts, but just as importantly, is now devoting greater attention to laying the basis for alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

"People plant poppy in Myanmar - as they do elsewhere across the world - due to food insecurity, poverty, conflict and the price per kilo compared with other crops," sais Mr. Lewis. However, if farmers can be given a reasonable alternative which does not force them to do something illegal they will normally go for the legal crop."

Mr. Lewis reported that the Government of Myanmar - on the basis of a number of Ceasefire Agreements worked out with ethnic insurgents in Shan State (where most of the poppy is grown) - has significantly extended the number of townships that the UN can work in. With the support of funding from the EU and Germany and in partnership with our colleagues from World Food Programme, we are trying to provide alternatives to farmers, Mr. Lewis said. "But what we do is currently a drop in the bucket. Much more is needed."

Asked whether the reforms are helping to promote drug control or drug trafficking, Mr. Lewis replied: "I think we need to stop asking whether the reforms will succeed and start saying 'How can we help?'"

Despite a global illicit drug use and production situation it describes as "stable", the report released worldwide today by UNODC draws attention to the "heavy financial burden" and human cost of illicit drug use in countries around the world.

The UNODC World Drug Report is an annual publication that provides an overview of the world's drug situation in terms of illicit cultivation, production, trafficking, and abuse with the latest data available. The source of the data is mainly from the Annual Reports Questionnaire system used by most governments and coordinated by UNODC.

Globally, around 230 million people - about 108 million of them in Asia - are estimated to have used an illicit drug at least once in 2010, according to the Report. Problem drug users, mainly heroin- and cocaine-dependent persons, number about 27 million, equivalent to roughly 0.6 per cent of the world adult population, or 1 in every 200 people, the Report notes.

In terms of a law enforcement response, Mr. Lewis urged the need to focus more on kingpins and their white collar accomplices. "We need to 'follow the money' - the proceeds of crime - and do a better job to counter money laundering. Finally we need to empower frontline law enforcement agencies with proper knowledge and equipment", Lewis said. Looking at the demand side, he urged the region to "adopt evidence-based prevention strategies and - when treating people for drug use - which is a chronic relapsing disorder - we must focus on effective community-based treatment and move away from the focus on compulsory centres."

Myanmar remained the world's second largest poppy-crop grower and opium producer after Afghanistan, with cultivation up by 14 per cent in 2011. According to UNODC, Myanmar currently accounts for 23 per cent of global illicit poppy cultivation, and 9 per cent of global opium production. Myanmar's potential opium poppy production is estimated at some 610 tons and Lao PDR's at around 25 tons.

From 2010 to 2011, poppy crop cultivation in South-East Asia jumped 16 per cent from some 41,000 ha to almost 48,000 ha. Overall, cultivation has doubled in South-East Asia since 2006. UNODC estimates that 246,000 households are involved in opium cultivation in Myanmar, with 91 per cent of opium cultivation occurring in Shan State.