15 November - In a speech presented to a Conference on Cocaine taking place in Madrid today, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, urged Europe's cocaine users to take greater responsibility for the consequences of their addiction.
Mr. Costa attributed high levels of cocaine use in Europe to the drug's image. Compared to heroin, "cocaine is white not dark; sniffed not injected; consumed in trendy discos not in cities' gutters; it is the mental fuel of society's winners, not the dope of losers".
This socially acceptable image masks the dangers of a highly addictive substance that is harmful to the addict, dangerous to others (for example deadly accidents caused "coked up drivers"), destructive to the environment (coca cultivation destroys precious Andean forests), and can be a source of terrorist financing (like the FARC in Colombia).
Above all, cocaine threatens security in West Africa which is "under attack" by criminals who are using the region as a hub for trafficking drugs from South America to Europe. In countries like Guinea Bissau, the drugs trade may now be as high as the country's national income. The danger that this poses has been recognized by the Security Council. "A sniff here and a sniff there in Europe are causing another disaster in Africa, to add to its poverty, unemployment and pandemics. The problem will persist until Europeans curb their appetite for cocaine", warned Mr. Costa.
He said that he was "perplexed and frustrated" by the public's careless attitude to the damaging effects of cocaine. "Europeans now understand that they should not buy blood diamonds, or clothes made by slaves working in sweatshops. Yet models and socialites who wouldn't be caught dead wearing a fur coat flaunt their cocaine use in public". He observed that "one song, one picture, one quote that makes cocaine look cool can undo millions of dollars worth of anti-drug education and prevention".
The head of UNODC therefore called on celebrities, in particular, to accept a greater sense of responsibility for their words and deeds, and speak out about the dangers of cocaine use "to make it a public enemy rather than socially acceptable". He urged the media to refrain from the "reckless" practice of glamorizing the lifestyles of "stars turned junkies".
Mr. Costa also called for greater investment into drug prevention and treatment, warning that "Europe stands almost naked in the face of the cocaine threat".