26 June 2003

Afghanistan Top Opium Producer, U.N. Reports, June 25, 2003

(2003 Global Illicit Drug Trends report released)

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

The full text of the report is available on the Internet at: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html or as a downloadable Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file (11Mb).

United Nations -- Following a steep decline in 2001, illicit opium and heroin production recovered in 2002 due in large part to the resumption of large-scale opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Releasing its 2003 report on Global Illicit Drug Trends, UNODC said June 25 that the cultivation of opium poppies has shifted over the past four years from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, which now produces 76 percent of the world's opium. With that shift have come new patterns of heroin abuse in the world.

"The rapid growth of opium production in Afghanistan has fuelled the development of a large heroin market in the region and, further, in Central Asia, the Russian Federation and East Europe," the report said.

Nevertheless, UNODC called amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) -- synthetic drugs that include amphetamine, metamphetamine and Ecstasy -- "public enemy number one" among illicit drugs.

"Unlike the traditional plant-based drugs, the production of ATS starts with readily-available chemicals in easily concealed laboratories. This makes an assessment of the location, extent and evolution of the production of such illicit drugs extremely difficult," said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC executive director, at a press conference held to release the report in Paris.

"Above all, and this is very worrisome, too many people seem to condone the abuse of synthetic drugs, increasing their acceptability in society," Costa said.

The report, which was released as part of the June 26 observance of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, tracks major changes in patterns of drug abuse and production worldwide.

The 2003 report said that positive trends in some areas mixed with declines in others, presenting an uneven picture of positive and negative developments depending on the drugs and the region involved.

Progress made in Myanmar and the Lao People's Democratic Republic "has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the area under opium poppy cultivation in the region between 1998 and 2002. This downward trend continued in 2003," the report said. "If the current rate of reduction in Southeast Asia is sustained, the Golden Triangle could well become a minor source of illicit opium in the next few years. This would close a century-long chapter in the history of drug control."

There are also signs of progress in controlling cocaine, the second most abused illicit drug, the report said. Of the three major cocaine suppliers, Bolivia has now become an "almost marginal source," it said.

Peru has reduced coca cultivation 60 percent since 1995. Together, Peru and Bolivia have not produced more than one-fifth of the world's illicit cocaine during the past few years, the report said.

"The main challenge is Colombia" where domestic cultivation increased five-fold between 1993 and 1999, making the country the source of almost three-quarters of the world's illicit cocaine, it said.

"The good news is that reversing an eight-year trend, and for the second year in a row, Colombia achieved a very significant reduction of coca bush cultivation on its territory in 2002. Cumulatively, this amounts to a 37 percent decline between 2000 and 2002," the report said.

On the demand side, cocaine use in the United States, the world's largest cocaine market, has dropped -- down 15 percent from 1998 and some 60 percent lower than in 1985. Nevertheless, cocaine abuse is increasing in South America and traffickers have also been finding new markets in Europe. The majority of West European countries reported an increase in cocaine abuse in 2001, the report said.

After a period of decline, Ecstasy abuse is increasing in West Europe while it declined in the United States for the first time in years in 2002. However, the report said, in the Caribbean and parts of South America, Oceania, Southeast Asia, the Near East, and southern Africa "it seems to be accelerating."

UNODC estimates that in 2000 and 2001 about 200 million people used illicit drugs. This includes about 163 million who used cannabis, 34 million who used amphetamines, 8 million who used Ecstasy, 14 million who used cocaine, and 15 million who used opiates, of which 10 million used heroin.