World Drug Report 2010: drug use is shifting towards new drugs and new markets

23 June 2010 - Today, at the National Press Club in Washington, UNODC launched the World Drug Report 2010. Taking part in the launch were UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, Viktor Ivanov, Director of the Federal Drugs Control Service of the Russian Federation, and Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Report shows that drug use is shifting towards new drugs and new markets. Drug crop cultivation is declining in Afghanistan (for opium) and the Andean countries (coca), and drug use has stabilized in the developed world. However, there are signs of an increase in drug use in developing countries and growing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants and prescription drugs around the world.

The Report shows that the world's supply of the two main problem drugs - opiates and cocaine - keeps declining. The global area under opium cultivation has dropped by almost a quarter (23 per cent) in the past two years, and opium production looks set to fall steeply in 2010 due to a blight that could wipe out a quarter of Afghanistan's opium poppy crop. Coca cultivation, down by 28 per cent in the past decade, has kept declining in 2009. World cocaine production has declined by 12-18 per cent over the period 2007-2009.

Global potential heroin production fell by 13 per cent to 657 tons in 2009, reflecting lower opium production in both Afghanistan and Myanmar. The actual amount of heroin reaching the market is much lower (around 430 tons) since significant amounts of opium are being stockpiled. UNODC estimates that more than 12,000 tons of Afghan opium (around 2.5 years' worth of global illicit opiate demand) are being stockpiled.

The World Drug Report 2010 shows that in the past few years cocaine consumption has fallen significantly in the United States, where the retail value of cocaine declined by about two thirds in the 1990s and by about one quarter in the past decade.

To an extent, the problem has moved across the Atlantic: in the last decade, the number of cocaine users in Europe has doubled, from 2 million in 1998 to 4.1 million in 2008. By 2008, the European market ($34 billion) was almost as valuable as the North American market ($37 billion). The shift in demand has led to a shift in trafficking routes, with an increasing amount of cocaine flowing to Europe from the Andean countries via West Africa, causing regional instability. "People snorting coke in Europe are killing the pristine forests of the Andean countries and corrupting governments in West Africa", said Mr. Costa.

Globally, the number of people using amphetamine-type stimulants - estimated at around 30-40 million - is soon likely to exceed the number of opiate and cocaine users combined. There is also evidence of increasing abuse of prescription drugs. "We will not solve the world drugs problem if we simply push addiction from cocaine and heroin to other addictive substances - and there are unlimited amounts of them, produced in mafia labs at trivial costs", warned Mr. Costa.

The market for amphetamine-type stimulants is harder to track because of short trafficking routes (manufacturing usually takes place close to the main consumer markets) and the fact that many of the raw materials are both legal and readily available. Manufacturers are quick to market new products (like ketamine, piperazines, mephedrone and Spice) and exploit new markets. "These new drugs cause a double problem. First, they are being developed at a much faster rate than regulatory norms and law enforcement can keep up. Second, their marketing is cunningly clever, as they are custom-manufactured so as to meet the specific preference in each situation", said Mr. Costa.

The number of clandestine laboratories involved in the manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants is reported to have increased by 20 per cent in 2008, including in countries where such labs had never been detected before.

Manufacture of "ecstasy" has increased in North America (notably in Canada) and in several parts of Asia, and use seems to be increasing in Asia. In another demonstration of the fluidity of drug markets, "ecstasy" use in Europe has plummeted since 2006.

Cannabis remains the world's most widely produced and used illicit substance: it is grown in almost all countries of the world and is smoked by 130-190 million people at least once a year - though these parameters are not very telling in terms of addiction. The fact that cannabis use is declining in some of its highest value markets, namely North America and parts of Europe, is another indication of shifting patterns of drug abuse.

UNODC found evidence of indoor cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes in 29 countries, particularly in Europe, Australia and North America. Indoor cultivation is a lucrative business and is increasingly a source of profit for criminal groups. Based on evidence gathered in 2009, Afghanistan is now the world's leading producer of cannabis resin (as well as of opium).

The World Drug Report 2010 exposes a serious lack of drug treatment facilities around the world. "While rich people in rich countries can afford treatment, poor people and/or poor countries are facing the greatest health consequences", warned the head of UNODC. The Report estimates that, in 2008, only around one fifth of problem drug users worldwide had received treatment in the previous year, which means that around 20 million drug dependent people did not receive treatment. "It is time for universal access to drug treatment", said Mr. Costa.

He called for health to be the centrepiece of drug control. "Drug addiction is a treatable health condition, not a life sentence. Drug addicts should be sent to treatment, not to jail. And drug treatment should be part of mainstream health care."

He also called for greater respect for human rights. "Just because people take drugs, or are behind bars, this doesn't abolish their rights. I appeal to countries where people are executed for drug-related offences or, worse, are gunned down by extrajudicial hit squads, to end this practice".

Mr. Costa highlighted the dangers of drug use in the developing world. "Poor countries are not in a position to absorb the consequences of increased drug use. The developing world faces a looming crisis that would enslave millions to the misery of drug dependence". He cited the boom in heroin consumption in East Africa, the rise of cocaine use in West Africa and South America, and the surge in the production and abuse of synthetic drugs in the Middle East and South-East Asia. "We will not solve the world drug problem by shifting consumption from the developed to the developing world", said Mr. Costa.

The World Drug Report 2010 contains a chapter on the destabilizing influence of drug trafficking on transit countries, focusing in particular on the case of cocaine. It shows how underdevelopment and weak governance attract crime, while crime deepens instability. It shows how the wealth, violence and power of drug trafficking can undermine the security, even the sovereignty, of States. The threat to security posed by drug trafficking has been on the agenda of the Security Council several times during the past year.

While drug-related violence in Mexico receives considerable attention, the northern triangle of Central America, consisting of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is even more seriously affected, with murder rates much higher than in Mexico. The Report says that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has emerged as a major departure point for cocaine trafficked to Europe: between 2006 and 2008, over half of all detected maritime shipments of cocaine to Europe came from that country.

The Report highlights the unstable situation in West Africa, which has become a hub for cocaine trafficking. It notes that "traffickers have been able to co-opt top figures in some authoritarian societies", citing the recent case of Guinea-Bissau.

Mr. Costa called for more development to reduce vulnerability to crime and increased law enforcement cooperation to deal with drug trafficking. "Unless we deal effectively with the threat posed by organized crime, our societies will be held hostage - and drug control will be jeopardized, by renewed calls to dump the UN drug conventions that critics say are the cause of crime and instability. This would undo the progress that has been made in drug control over the past decade, and unleash a public health disaster", he warned.  "Yet, unless drug prevention and treatment are taken more seriously, public opinion's support for the UN drug conventions will wane".

Speaking at the launch, Mr. Kerlikowske said: "The United States recognizes, as a major drug consuming nation, our responsibility to reduce American drug use and global consequences of that use. For this reason, the Obama Administration released last month its first National Drug Control Strategy emphasizing community-based prevention, early intervention, integration of drug treatment into our health-care system, and evidence-based prevention and treatment, combined with innovations in the criminal justice system. These new efforts will complement our continuing efforts at home and abroad to disrupt drug trafficking organizations, interdict currency and weapons before they get in the hands of drug cartels, and assist our partners around the world to reduce drug production, trafficking and use."