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Issue No: 125
July 4, 2009

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World Drug Report 2009
People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution

THE World Drug Report 2009, has launched recently by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that global markets for cocaine, opiates and cannabis are steady or in decline, while production and use of synthetic drugs is feared to be increasing in the developing world.

The 314-page Report, prepared for World Drug Day on 26 June, was launched in Washington D.C. by UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, and the newly appointed Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske.

A downward trend in major markets
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, where 93 per cent of the world's opium is grown, declined by 19 per cent in 2008. Colombia, which produces half of the world's cocaine, saw an 18 per cent decline in cultivation and a staggering 28 per cent decline in production compared to 2007. Global coca production, at 845 tons, is at a five year low, despite some increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia.

Cannabis remains the most widely cultivated and used drug around the world, although estimates are less precise. Data also show that it is more harmful than commonly believed. The average THC content (the harmful component) of hydroponic marijuana in North America almost doubled in the past decade. This has major health implications as evidenced by a significant rise in the number of people seeking treatment.

In terms of consumption, the world's biggest markets for cannabis (North America, Oceania, and Western Europe), cocaine (North America and some parts of Western Europe) and opiates (South East Asia and Western Europe) are all flat or down. Data is less clear for developing countries.

How to improve drug control
The Report provides a number of recommendations on how to improve drug control.

First, drug use should be treated as an illness. "People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution," said Mr. Costa. He appealed for universal access to drug treatment. Since people with serious drug problems provide the bulk of drug demand, treating this problem is one of the best ways of shrinking the market.

Second, he called for "an end to the tragedy of cities out of control." In the same way that most illicit cultivation takes place in regions out of government control, most drugs are sold in city neighbourhoods where public order has broken down. "Housing, jobs, education, public services, and recreation can make communities less vulnerable to drugs and crime," said Mr. Costa.

Third, governments must enforce international agreements against organized crime. International crime-fighting instruments like the United Nations Conventions against organised crime and corruption are not being used. "Therefore, too many states have crime problems of their own making," said the head of UNODC. In particular, he said "current instruments to tackle money laundering and cyber-crime are inadequate."

Fourth, he called for greater efficiency in law enforcement. He encouraged police to focus on the small number of high profile, high volume, and violent criminals instead of the large volumes of petty offenders. In some countries, the ratio of people imprisoned for drug use compared to drug trafficking is 5:1. "This is a waste of money for the police, and a waste of lives for those thrown in jail. Go after the piranhas, not the minnows," said Mr. Costa.

In an effort to improve transparency and the quality of drug data, this year UNODC has introduced ranges into country-level estimates used in the World Drug Report. For many regions, and for some drugs (like ATS and cannabis) the ranges are relatively wide since information is more limited. "I urge governments to gather more information. This will provide a clearer picture of drug trends, and, as a result, improve drug control," said Mr. Costa.

Source: United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC).


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