14 April 2004
VIENNA, 14 April (UN Information Service) -- Speaking at the conference of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, an annual gathering of grass-roots and volunteer organizations involved in efforts to reduce drug abuse and its impact on societies worldwide, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stressed the importance of preventive and therapeutic action before drug abuse becomes a health, social and financial burden.
Every dollar invested in treatment and prevention saves a multiple seven to ten dollars for drug-related crime and health costs, Mr. Costa said. But it is not only a matter of money. Treatment and rehabilitation reduce drug abuse, improve health and the social functioning of people. The risk of infectious diseases is lower, and so is crime.
Presenting the current global illicit drugs production and trafficking trends, Mr. Costa stressed significant progress in efforts to control traditional organic drugs, such as coca and opium. During the past few years, major decreases have been noted in the cultivation of opium in the Golden Triangle and of coca in the Andean region. At the same time, there are new threats including the HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to be fuelled by drug abuse, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as an increase in production and trafficking of synthetic drugs.
Because of the economics of supply and the fashion of demand, man-made illicit drugs (amphetamine-type stimulants, ATS) are replacing the natural ones at an increasing pace, Mr. Costa said. Seizures of laboratories, equipment, precursors, finished products (as well as abuse) show that, since 1998, the ATS market (500 tons per year) has grown in size and sophistication.
The UNODC head insisted on the importance of drug abuse prevention, warning that as long as demand persists at over 450 tons per year of heroin and almost twice the amount of cocaine, these substances would be produced somewhere whether Afghanistan, Colombia or elsewhere.
Speaking about drug abuse trends, Mr. Costa pointed to notable reduction in cocaine and heroin abuse in their major markets, North America and Western Europe, as well as to Australias success in curbing addiction of all types of narcotics. Drug abuse by injection, however, threatens to create a major HIV/AIDS pandemic in Eastern Europe, the Far East, the Caribbean and in parts of Africa.
Worldwide, only five per cent of injecting drug abusers (over 12 million, in some countries up to 90 per cent are HIV positive) are reached with HIV/AIDS care. In prisons, especially in countries where addicts are arrested, and in brothels, especially as a result of trafficking in human beings, the risk of HIV/AIDS infection is massive, Mr. Costa said.
Discussing the effectiveness of prevention measures, Mr. Costa pointed to a recent paradoxical development; in certain rich countries, where a consensus emerged on tightening regulations against tobacco use, there are small, vocal and well-funded groups advocating the relaxation of drug controls.
Just as in the case of tobacco, drug abuse prevention needs to involve society at large: schools, sports centres, work places, media, leisure settings, courts, life insurance policies, places of faith and, above all, family. This consensus approach has produced tangible results against tobacco: smokers are on the defensive, as public support for banning smoking is asserting itself more and more. We need the same consensus against drug abuse, Mr. Costa said.
This years, the 22nd World Federation of Therapeutic Communities Conference hosted by Spanish non-governmental organization Proyecto Hombre takes place from 13 to 17 April under the slogan The Therapeutic Community: the challenge of experience.
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