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UNIS/NAR/849
25 June 2004

United Nations’ World Drug Report 2004 Presents An In-Depth Look into Global Drug Trends

Some Improvement in the World Drug Situation Is Confirmed in a Two-Volume Publication That Covers Market Trends and a Long-Term Analysis Rich in Statistics on Cultivation, Production, Trafficking and Abuse

VIENNA, 25 June (UN Information Service)  -- Approximately three per cent of the world population (185 million people) have abused drugs during the previous 12 months, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). A small percentage of the world population abuses cocaine (13 million people) or opiates (15 million abusers of heroin, morphine and opium). By far the most widely abused substance is cannabis (used at least once a year by over 150 million people), followed by the amphetamine-type stimulants – ATS (38 million users, among them eight million users of ecstasy).

These figures were presented today by UNODC in a two-volume World Drug Report. The first volume covers market trends and provides in-depth trend analyses while the second volume compiles detailed statistics on the worldwide drug market.

“After the significant growth of drug abuse in the past half century, the spread of drugs in the world has slowed down.  Less than one adult person out of 30 (five per cent of the world population aged 15 to 64) has used illicit drugs in the past 12 months. The number of people that consume tobacco is seven times larger, involving a staggering 30 per cent of the world population,” said Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, presenting the World Drug Report 2004 at a press conference in Moscow, hosted by Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

“In many countries, drug control efforts increasingly limit the harm caused by drugs to a fraction of that caused by licit substances like tobacco and alcohol. Especially encouraging is the substantial decrease of deaths caused by drug abuse in Western Europe during the past few years – almost 20 per cent between 2000 and 2002,” Mr. Costa added.

Despite the encouraging results, Mr. Costa said there was a powerful consensus among governments and public opinion at large that the “current levels of illicit drug use, together with the health consequences and criminal activities associated with it, are clearly unacceptable.  Stronger prevention and treatment policies are needed, throughout society.”

“The multilateral drug control system enjoys practically universal adherence,” Mr. Costa stressed. “Although the large majority of the world population (95 per cent) remains untouched by illicit drug use, the youth in particular, are vulnerable.  Governments need to do much more to prevent abuse, and to assist those who are already affected.  Especially worrisome is the spread of HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users. The weight of law enforcement has to concentrate on drug traffickers, while our help and compassion must go to those who have been victimized by the evil merchants.”

There are 1.3 billion tobacco smokers in the world, seven times more than drug users. The World Health Organization estimates that some 200,000 people died because of drug abuse in the year 2000, equivalent to 0.4 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Tobacco, however, claimed 25 times as many lives (4.9 million), equivalent to 8.8 per cent of all deaths. If the measure of disability-adjusted life years is used, then drug abuse would have caused the loss of 11.2 million years of healthy life, but tobacco would have caused the loss of five times as many years of healthy life (59.1million).

“Drug abuse has a negative impact on individuals, and on the functioning of societies as a whole.  In many countries, drug cultivation hinders development.  Poverty and weak governments facilitate trafficking.  Alienation and exclusion cause abuse. Drug control priorities therefore need to be placed firmly into the mainstream of a country’s socio-economic agenda.  This requires a society-wide engagement on the part of families, schools, sports clubs, places of faith, non-governmental organizations and media,” Mr. Costa said.

Some of the highlights of the World Drug Report 2004 include:

The good news comes from the two major drugs producing regions: In South-East Asia, the opium poppy cultivation continues to decline in Myanmar and Laos, while in the Andean region, coca cultivation registered sustained decline for the fourth year in a row with continuing supply reduction efforts in all three leading producing countries (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia). 

In terms of health impact, opiates are the world’s most serious drug problem.  They account for 67 per cent of drug treatment in Asia, 61 per cent in Europe, and 47 per cent in Oceania. In South-East Asia, methamphetamines have become the main problem drug. Cocaine still comes first on the American continent as a whole, but in the USA, cocaine abuse among students has been declining. In Africa, cannabis continues to dominate treatment demand (65 per cent).

“Taking into account trends in cultivation, production and consumption, the global heroin market is shifting away from developed countries and towards transition and some developing countries. Much will depend on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which produces three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium,” Mr. Costa said, inviting the international community to address the opium problem in Afghanistan more vigorously.

● Over the 10-year period the quantities of illicit drugs seized have increased as a whole, with the strongest increase for ATS.

● The conversion of the quantities of drugs seized into unit equivalents (a typical dose taken by drug users to experience a ‘high’) reflects a strong increase in overall seizures from 14 billion doses in 1990 to 26 billion in 2000 with signs of stabilization in 2001/2002. Seizures in unit terms are the highest on the American continent (10.4 billion doses), followed by Europe (7.4 billion), Asia (5.5), Africa (2.4) and Oceania (0.08).

● On a per capita basis, however, the ranking changes to: the Americas (12.1 units or doses seized per capita), Europe (10.2), Africa (2.9), Oceania (2.6) and Asia (1.5).

● Global illicit production of opium (from which heroin is processed) has remained stable, at around 4,000 to 5,000 metric tonnes since the early 1990s, but has become increasingly concentrated in Afghanistan.

● Coca cultivation (cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca bush) has decreased by 30 per cent from 1999 to 2003.

● Following the increased seizures of laboratories since the mid-1990s, in developed countries ATS consumption seems to have peaked in the past two years.

● The cannabis market – according to the World Drug Report – remains buoyant with the increasing consumption in South America, expanding markets in Western and Eastern Europe as well as in Africa. 

● Although the ATS market is expanding, the rate of increase seems to be slowing down from the rapid increases that characterized it in the past ten years.

The World Drug Report 2004 provides a comprehensive picture of the global drug trends, presenting supply (production and trafficking) and demand statistics. The analysis chapter presents the four main illicit drug markets, with trend information regarding production, trafficking and abuse of opium/heroin; coca/cocaine; cannabis and ATS. The section on statistics provides figures for each country. The two-volume Report merges the former Global Illicit Drug Trends publication and the World Drug Report. The consolidation of the two reports, according to UNODC, was designed to increase the breadth of analytical coverage, while maintaining the annual frequency of statistical output.

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