World Drug Report 2011: Drug markets stable but consumption of synthetic and prescription drugs rises

Photo: UNODC23 June 2011 - While global markets for cocaine, heroin and cannabis have declined or remained stable, the production and abuse of prescription opioid drugs and new synthetic drugs have risen, according to the World Drug Report 2011. Illicit cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush have remained limited to a few countries. Although there has been a sharp decline in opium production and a modest reduction in coca bush cultivation, the overall level of manufacture of heroin and cocaine has remained significant.

The flagship report was launched in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov, the President of the sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, and the Director of the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation, Viktor Ivanov.

Globally, some 210 million people, or 4.8 per cent of the population aged 15-64 years, use illicit substances each year. Drug abuse overall, including problem drug abuse, has remained stable at 0.6 per cent of the population aged 15-64 years. However, demand has soared for substances not under international control, such as piperazine and cathinone, and synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of cannabis, such as Spice products.

Lower level of opium production in Afghanistan; slight increase in Myanmar

Global opium poppy cultivation reached some 195,700 hectares (ha) in 2010, a small increase compared to 2009. However, opium production fell by 38 per cent to 4,860 tons as the result of a blight that wiped out much of the opium harvest in Afghanistan. While cultivation in Afghanistan remained stable, the global trend was driven mainly by increases in Myanmar, where cultivation rose by some 20 per cent from 2009. Consequently, opium production in Myanmar increased from 5 per cent of global production in 2007 to 12 per cent in 2010. Global opium production decreased by 45 per cent between 2007 and 2010, notably as a result of poor yields in 2010, but that trend is unlikely to continue.

Global coca bush cultivation decreases owing to decline in Colombia; United States cocaine market shrinks

The total area of land under coca cultivation worldwide shrank to 149,100 ha in 2010, a decrease of 18 per cent since 2007. During that time, potential cocaine production fell by about one sixth, reflecting the significant decrease in cocaine production in Colombia. Consequently, that decline was not offset by small increases in Peru and the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

The United States cocaine market has shrunk dramatically in recent years. Nevertheless, the United States of America continues to be the largest market for cocaine, an estimated 157 tons of cocaine having been used in that country in 2009.

Over the past decade, cocaine use in Europe has doubled, although it has remained largely stable over the past few years. It is estimated that about 21 tons of cocaine were trafficked via West Africa to Europe in 2009. This represents a decrease since 2007, when that figure was estimated to have reached as much as 47 tons.

Meanwhile, market prices for cocaine have dropped appreciably since the mid-1990s. Just a decade ago, the North American market for cocaine was four times larger than that of Europe. Today, the estimated value of the European cocaine market ($36 billion) is approaching that of the United States market ($37 billion).

Cannabis - the world's drug of choice

Cannabis remains by far the most widely produced and used illicit substance in the world, although data on cannabis are limited. In 2009, between 2.8 per cent and 4.5 per cent of the world population aged 15-64 years - between 125 and 203 million people - had used cannabis at least once in the past year.

While cannabis herb (marijuana) production is widespread, notably in the Americas and Africa, cannabis resin (hashish) production continues to be concentrated in just two countries: Morocco, supplying the West European and North African markets, and Afghanistan, which supplies the markets in South-West Asia. Cannabis resin was a far more profitable product than opium poppy in Afghanistan in 2010.

Synthetic drugs - South-East Asia and Africa under the radar

Soaring production, trafficking and abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants, accompanied by a resurgence in opium poppy cultivation and heroin trafficking, are a major concern in South-East Asia. "The gains we have witnessed in the traditional drug markets are being offset by a fashion for synthetic 'designer drugs' mimicking illegal substances," said the Executive Director of UNODC.

In his closing remarks at the launch of the World Drug Report 2011, Mr. Fedotov noted that "drugs cause some 200,000 deaths a year. Since people with serious drug problems provide the bulk of drug demand, treating this problem is one of the best ways of shrinking the market." He also drew attention to the fiftieth anniversary of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961: "This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the cornerstone of the international drug control system: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. The provisions of that Convention remain sound and highly relevant, as does its central focus on the protection of health."

Related information:

World Drug Report 2011

World Drug Campaign