Drug Use: Signs of a Slowdown

In U.N. Report, the News Isn't All Bad

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VIENNA, Austria, JULY 10, 2004 (Zenit.org).- On June 25 the Austria-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued its annual report on illicit drug use. According to the two-volume World Drug Report 2004, about 3% of the world's population used illegal drugs in the past 12 months.



Out of the estimated 185 million people who use illicit drugs, 13 million use cocaine, the report calculates. Heroin, morphine and opium attract 15 million users. Amphetamine-type stimulants account for 38 million users, including 8 million users of ecstasy. The most widely used illegal substance is marijuana, with 150 million users.

Yet, the spread of drug use is now slowing, according to Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC. The slowdown is notable for both heroin and cocaine. Marijuana use, however, continues to increase. Costa also said there was a 20% decrease in the number of deaths in Western Europe due to drug abuse in the period 2000-2002.

UNODC also reported on positive developments in two major drug-producing areas. In Southeast Asia, opium poppy cultivation continues to decline in Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. And, in the Andean region of South America, coca cultivation continued to decline for the fourth year in a row.

Nevertheless, Costa affirmed that a consensus exists among governments and public opinion 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 report explained that drug abuse creates problems that go well beyond the consequences for the individual user. At a national level drugs are inextricably linked with organized crime and this makes them both a cause and a consequence of conflict, weak governance and underdevelopment. At a global level the illicit drug trade respects no borders and this puts any control over this commerce beyond the reach of any single government, rich or poor.

Key producers

The report contains detailed information on the main types of drugs. The amount of land dedicated to opium poppy cultivation declined 6% in 2003 and compared to the early 1990s the area under cultivation is down 40%.

But the large increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, where the crop has a higher opium yield, means a 5% increase in terms of production last year. In 2003, the report calculated that Afghanistan produced 3,600 tons of opium, more than three-quarters of world supply.

Global coca cultivation continued declining for the fourth straight year in 2003. The total area under cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined declined by 11%, to give a cumulative 30% decline from the 1989 peak. Colombia accounted for 56% of the coca-producing fields, followed by Peru, 29%, and Bolivia, 15%.

The report's information on marijuana production was less certain, given the wide geographical spread. No fewer than 142 countries reported seizing cannabis plants in 2002. Overall production may have reached around 32,000 tons in 2002. U.S. authorities report that two-thirds of marijuana is domestically produced. In South America, Colombia and Paraguay are among the main source countries. Most countries in Europe also report domestic production of cannabis, with cultivation especially noted in Albania and the Netherlands. In Western Europe, about 80% of the cannabis resin is estimated to originate in Morocco.

Global production of methamphetamine and amphetamine is estimated at 410 tons and ecstasy production is estimated at 113 tons. The main producers of methamphetamine are Myanmar, China, the Philippines, the United States and Mexico. The main producers of amphetamine and ecstasy are in Europe and include the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, the Baltic states, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Tackling the problem

The report contained a number of recommendations as to how countries can deal with the drug problem. These include:

-- Affronting drugs in a broader development context. Drugs not only hinder development programs, but poor countries with weak governments are also less able to tackle drug production, trafficking and abuse. Therefore, drug control programs need to be integrated into a wider approach, uniting the activity of public institutions with efforts by families, non-governmental organizations and the media.

-- Coordinating better the fight against drugs and crime. Drugs, terrorism, trafficking in persons, the illegal arms trade and corruption are in many cases linked. Some progress has been made in developing the means to coordinate programs aimed at each of these problems.

-- Human security. The report noted that at the 2000 U.N. Millennium Summit, the Commission on Human Security put forward the notion of "human security" to complement the concepts of human development and human rights. The report commented that this notion of human security can provide a much-needed conceptual link between drugs and crime control, and development policies.

-- Understanding markets. The UNODC report admitted that there are large gaps in drug-related data and statistics, especially in developing countries. Also, still little is known about the structure and dynamics of drug markets at national, regional and global levels. Remedying this deficiency will enable more effective drug control strategies to be developed.

-- Drugs as epidemics. Up until now both the analysis and response to the drug problem has treated the phenomenon as being essentially linear in nature. But drugs are perhaps better understood as commodities, notes the report, whose diffusion among users often follows a pattern similar to that of an infectious disease. Conceiving drugs as being akin to an epidemic could help to understand and cope with problem, enabling, for example, resources to be distributed more flexibly according to current trends.

Helping addicts

Along with the annual report, UNODC also launched a campaign titled: "Drugs: Treatment Works." The yearlong campaign started on June 26, the U.N.-designated International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The campaign aims at emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of drug treatment. "A common misconception exists that 'once a drug abuser, always a drug abuser,'" commented UNODC executive director Costa. This attitude, and the stigma associated with drug abuse and drug dependence, can be an obstacle in treating drug abusers. "In truth, drug abuse treatment is effective and can have a dramatic impact on individuals, families and society," said Costa.

Effective drug abuse treatment, noted the UNODC press release, can help alleviate some of the most devastating social ills that accompany drug use -- crime, the transmission of infectious diseases, loss of productivity, and family as well as social disorders.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, has also highlighted the need to combat drug abuse. In an address to a U.N. committee last Oct. 14 he observed: "It is especially worrying to note that this social ill affects thousands of young people, which implies enormous consequences for the future of society."

Archbishop Migliore expressed confidence that the international community will listen to the needs of young people, "and will redouble its efforts in helping the young generation to liberate itself from this deadly phenomenon of narcotics abuse because the future of youth signifies the future of all humanity."

He also noted that research has shown how strong family bonds are an important part of preventing drug abuse by youth. "Nurturing parenting practices, such as involvement in their children's daily activities and open communications within the family, contribute to healthy social behavior in childhood and adolescence." Resolving even complex international problems often starts with promoting healthy and strong families.