VIENNA, 26 June 2007 (UNODC) - Whereas a few years ago the world appeared to be heading for an epidemic of drug abuse, growing evidence suggests that the problem is being brought under control, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said on Tuesday.
"Recent data show that the run-away train of drug addiction has slowed down," he said in a statement marking the launch of UNODC's 2007 World Drug Report.
The Report shows global markets for illicit drugs remained largely stable in 2005-06. "For almost all drugs - cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines - there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of production, trafficking or consumption," Mr Costa said.
Coca cultivation in the Andes continues to decline and global cocaine consumption has stabilised, although the reduction in the United States is offset by alarming increases in Europe.
The market for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as ecstasy has also been contained, with levels of production and abuse stable in many countries. For the first time in decades, global statistics do not show an increase in world production and consumption of cannabis. "The much greater number of pot smokers seeking treatment shows that the new strains of high-potency cannabis make people sick, not just high," the UNODC Executive Director said.
While there are growing signs that both the supply of and demand for drugs are broadly stable and greater efforts are being made to reduce the harm they cause, the situation could easily deteriorate again. "We cannot take our foot off the brake. Drug prevention and effective health care for addicts remain vital," Mr Costa said.
Opium production in Afghanistan remains a major problem: cultivation increased dramatically in 2006, offsetting remarkable successes in eliminating other sources of opium supply, especially in South-East Asia. "In Afghanistan opium is a security issue, more than a drug issue," said the UN's drugs chief.
"The Helmand province, severely threatened by insurgency, is becoming the world's biggest drug supplier, with illicit cultivation larger than in the rest of the country put together and even than entire nations such as Myanmar or even Colombia," he added. "Effective surgery on Helmand's drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bringing security to the region."
Globally, coordinated drug law enforcement has driven up the volumes of drug seizures. More than 45 percent of the cocaine produced in the world is now being intercepted (up from 24% in 1999) and more than a quarter of all heroin (against 15% in 1999).
Traffickers are seeking new routes, for example through Africa. "Africa is under attack, targeted by cocaine traffickers from the West (Colombia) and heroin smugglers in the East (Afghanistan)," Mr Costa said. "This threat needs to be addressed quickly to stamp out organized crime, money-laundering and corruption, and to prevent the spread of drug use that could cause havoc across a continent already plagued by many other tragedies."
Seizing cannabis and ATS is proving difficult because of short supply routes. "Police should be on the look out for drug labs and indoor cannabis plantations, even in the middle of wealthy cities," Mr Costa warned.
If the drug problem is to be reduced in the longer term, there must be more preventive interventions and the problem must be treated at its source - the drug users. "The lives of at least one out of every 200 people in the world are ruled by drugs," Mr Costa said. "Drug addiction is an illness that must, and can, be prevented and treated. Early detection tests, better therapies and the integration of drug treatment into public health and social services programmes can free people from their dependence on drugs. Treating those who suffer from drugs is an investment in the health of our nations as much as treating HIV, diabetes or TB," he said.
Mr Costa urged the world to change the way it looks at the drugs problem and focus as much on defending people's health as on destroying illicit crops and criminal networks. This is a shared responsibility: internationally - between producing and consuming states; regionally - among neighbouring countries; and nationally - among all sectors of society.