26 June 2008 - The World Drug Report 2008, the UNODC flagship publication, was launched in New York today by Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. The report shows that the recent stabilization in the world drugs market is under threat because of a surge in opium and coca cultivation in rebel-held areas of Afghanistan and Colombia. Higher drug use in developing countries could also undermine recent progress in drug control.
The UNODC report shows that less than one in every twenty people aged 15-64 have tried drugs at least once in the past 12 months. Problem drug users (people with severe drug dependence) are less than one tenth of this already low percentage: 26 million people, or 0.6% of the planet's adult population.
Compare that with figures for legal psychoactive substances - tobacco kills 5 million people a year, alcohol about 2.5 million and illicit drugs around 200,000 a year worldwide. "Drug statistics show that the drug problem was dramatically reduced over the past century, and has stabilized over the past 10 years," observed Mr. Costa.
Drug control has undoubtedly helped stabilize the world drug situation. Contrasting the situation today with the one 100 years ago, UNODC expert Thomas Pietschmann says that " the main difference is that it was free a drugs market then, there had already been 2 wars because of opium. We have no more wars between countries linked to drugs; we have a system in which each country tries to control production and consumption. The problem is still not eliminated, but if you take hard drugs, we have a decline of 40 per cent in prevalence over 100 years." An impressive achievement when considering that the world's population increased fourfold over the twentieth century.
Afghanistan had a record opium harvest in 2007: as a consequence, the world's illegal opium production almost doubled since 2005. However, the problem is much localized. Most cultivation (80 per cent) took place in 5 southern provinces, which are the most unstable. This is twice as much supply than demand but it is not clear where it is going. A "heroin tsunami" is starting to wash up on shores of Europe, which is seeing a fall in heroin prices on the street.
The same pattern is evident in Colombia, where coca cultivation increased by a quarter (27 per cent) in 2007. Coca leaf and cocaine production were highly concentrated: ten municipalities accounted for almost half of all cocaine production (288 metric tons) and for one third of the cultivation (35,000 hectares). "In Colombia, just like in Afghanistan, the regions where most coca is grown are under the control of insurgents," observed Mr. Costa.
The world cannabis market is stable or even slightly down. However, Afghanistan has become a major producer of cannabis resin, perhaps exceeding Morocco. Cannabis is getting much stronger: the average level of the drug's psycho-active substance (THC) almost doubled in the US market between 1999 and 2006.
There is a fear of emerging markets for drugs in developing countries. But says Pietschmann, "the p roblem is concentrated in a handful of countries, there is a hope that areas of non-production will increase". He says developed countries have made progress, what we need is to see progress in developing countries.
Pointing out that resources for public security far outweigh those devoted to public health, Mr. Costa called for a stronger focus on health - the first principle of drug control. "Drug dependence is an illness that should be prevented and treated like any other," he said.
Full report (pdf)
Individual World Drug Report chapters, fact sheets and more available at the World Drug Report main page