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UN drug chief sounds alarm over European cocaine

UN drug chief sounds alarm over European cocaine consumption, Afghan opium

Cocaine consumption in Western Europe is reaching alarming levels while opium production in Afghanistan could rise again this year despite a welcome decline in 2005, but overall the world drug problem is being contained, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2006 World Drug Report, issued on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, shows that global opium production fell 5 per cent in 2005 while cocaine production was broadly stable. Seizures of both drugs, especially cocaine, reached record highs.

Consumption of cannabis, the most widely used illicit drug, continued to increase while the market for amphetamine-type stimulants stabilized. Africa is growing in importance for trans-shipments of cocaine and heroin to Europe.

“Drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in presenting the report, noting that trends in the global drugs market were moving in the right direction but governments needed to step up their efforts to reduce both supply and demand.

“This is true whether we look over the long term or even just over the past few years. Humanity has entered the 21st century with much lower levels of drug cultivation and drug addiction than 100 years earlier. Even more importantly, in the past few years, worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have halted a quarter century-long rise in drug abuse that, if left unchecked, could have become a global pandemic.”

In a message marking the Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on everybody to play their part in the battle against drugs. “We need more consistent leadership from Governments. We need better examples from role models whose drug use damages more people than just themselves,” he said.

“Our efforts must focus especially on young people - through outreach, peer-to-peer networks, and using opportunities such as sport to keep young people active, healthy and confident. That also means engaging and encouraging parents and teachers to play their part in full,” he added.

Mr. Costa highlighted three key weaknesses in the global drug control situation: heroin supply in Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer; cocaine demand in Europe; and cannabis supply and demand everywhere.

Although the area under opium poppy cultivation fell 21 per cent in 2005, the first such decline since 2001, “Afghanistan’s drug situation remains vulnerable to reversal because of mass poverty, lack of security and the fact that the authorities have inadequate control over its territory,” he warned. “This could happen as early as 2006 despite large-scale eradication of opium crops this spring.”

But Laos, until the mid-1990s was the third largest illicit opium producer in the world, slashed cultivation by 72 per cent in 2005 and is on the verge of becoming opium-free. “Laos has made spectacular progress which has not received the attention it deserves,” Mr. Costa said.

He noted that cocaine demand is rising in Western Europe to alarming levels. “I urge European Union governments not to ignore this peril,” he said. “Too many professional, educated Europeans use cocaine, often denying their addiction, and drug abuse by celebrities is often presented uncritically by the media, leaving young people confused and vulnerable.”

The report devotes special attention to cannabis, the world’s most abused illicit drug with an estimated 162 million people, 4 per cent of the global population age 15-64, using it at least once in 2004, and consumption continuing to rise. Mr. Costa warned that cannabis was now considerably more potent than a few decades ago and said it was a mistake to dismiss it as “soft” and relatively harmless.

Evidence that it can cause serious mental illness is mounting. “Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin,” he said.

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