UN says drug use shifting towards new drugs, markets

17:18, June 25, 2010      

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Global drug use is shifting from heroin and cocaine towards synthetic drugs, the UN said in a newly launched report, noting a growing demand for illicit substances in developing countries.

The World Drug Report 2010 launched in Nairobi on Friday by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that the number of users of synthetic drugs – estimated at around 30 to 40 million people worldwide – will soon exceed the number of users of opiates and cocaine combined.

The report notes that drug use has stabilized in developed nations while it seems to be rising in the developing world. "We will not solve the world drugs problem if we simply push addiction from cocaine and heroin to other addictive substances – and there are unlimited amounts of them, produced in mafia labs at trivial costs," warned UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

Costa cited the boom in heroin consumption in Eastern Africa, the rise of cocaine in West Africa and South America, and the surge in the production and abuse of synthetic drugs in the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Highlighting the dangers of drug use in the developing world, he noted that poor countries are not in a position to absorb the consequences of increased drug use. "The developing world faces a looming crisis that would enslave millions to the misery of drug dependence. We will not solve the world drug problem by shifting consumption from the developed to the developing world," he said.

He also pointed to a serious lack of drug treatment facilities around the world, adding that, while rich people in wealthy countries can afford treatment, the poor are facing the greatest health risks.

According to UNODC, between 155 million and 250 million people in the world, or between 3.5 percent and 5.7 percent of the population aged 15-64, used drugs at least once in 2008.

The report says drug cultivation is declining in Afghanistan ( for opium) and the Andean countries (coca), and drug use has stabilized in the developed world.

However, there are signs of an increase in drug use in developing countries, and growing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and prescription drugs around the world.

The UN anti-drug agency noted that the market for amphetamine- type stimulants is harder to track because of short trafficking routes, and the fact that many of the raw materials are both legal and readily available.

Manufacturers are quick to market new products, such as ketamine and mephedrone, and exploit new markets.

The report shows that the world's supply of the two main problem drugs – opiates and cocaine – keeps declining.

The global heroin market, estimated at 55 billion US dollars, is concentrated in Afghanistan (which accounts for 90 per cent of supply), Russia, Iran and Western Europe which together consume half the heroin produced in the world.

Although Afghanistan produces most of the world's opiates, it seizes less than two per cent of them.

Iran and Turkey are scoring the highest, responsible for over half of all heroin seized globally in 2008. Interdiction rates elsewhere are much lower.

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