Russia's problem with synthetic Drugs
There is no such thing as good news when it comes to drugs. Even a drop in the production of heroin, for example, simply means an increase in the production of synthetic drugs elsewhere.
UN experts predict a 23% decline in poppy fields worldwide this year and a nearly 25% decline in heroin production compared to two years ago. This is all thanks to diseases that have struck poppy crops in Afghanistan, where nearly 90% of the world's heroin is produced. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) projects that in 2010 these pathogens will destroy almost a quarter of Afghanistan's poppy crops. This is certainly good news.
But it has been almost completely overshadowed by more bad news. On June 28, Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), announced that Russia has been hit by an epidemic of synthetic drugs, particularly desomorphine. Today it is second only to heroin in popularity in Russia, and it could become a much more dangerous problem than all the opiates combined.
The reason for its deadly potential in Russia is the fact that it's a prescription drug. Russia is one of the few European countries where codeine-based medicines are sold over the counter. These medicines can be used to make desomorphine at home. It is a relatively simple process, which explains its growing popularity. It is more toxic, more addictive, and much cheaper than heroin. Russia's counter-narcotics agencies are worried that both the foreign and Russian drug mafia can fill the gaps in heroin supply by making a fast and simple transition to the production of synthetic drugs.
This has, in fact, already come to pass. According to an UNODC report on global production in 2010, the structure of the global drug market is changing, reflecting the increased used of synthetic drugs like amphetamine and prescription derivatives like desomorphine. According to the same report, the number of illegal laboratories producing synthetic drugs grew by 20% in 2009.
The UN estimates that global heroin production fell by 13% to 675 tons in 2009. Global consumption is considerably less - about 430 tons. Drug cartels are storing part of the heroin both to keep prices high and to offset a potential decline in production, like the one we are expecting this year due to poppy diseases in Afghanistan.
However, all these figures are provisional, as they are based on approximations and estimates. To know how much heroin, hashish or marijuana was consumed in the world, we must know exactly how much of each was smuggled into each country. This is an impossible task.
However, even the most conservative estimates value the global heroin market at approximately $55 billion. Almost half of the world's heroin is consumed in the European Union and Russia; the EU accounts for 26% and Russia for 21% of consumption, followed by China with 13%. Considering that the EU has 27 member states, Russia has clearly been the largest consumer of heroin for the past two years.
The UN estimates that Russia has between 1.5 and 1.8 million drug addicts. Russian estimates put this figure much higher - about 2.5 million long-term, habitual drug users and about 5 million off-and-on users.
The cocaine market, at an estimated $88 billion, is much larger than the heroin market, and it is also facing significant changes. The centers of cocaine consumption are migrating from the United States to Western Europe. The Americans were once firmly in the lead. Currently they consume $37 billion worth of cocaine per year, but at $34 billion the Europeans are not far behind. Europe may overtake the United States as early as next year. Over the past decade, the number of cocaine addicts has doubled in Europe, while the number halved in the United States (compared to peak consumption in 1982).
Cannabis (marijuana and hashish) is the most popular and widely used drug in the world. Between 130 and 190 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 smoke it at least once a year.
At the recent summit in Toronto, the G-20 countries supported Russia's initiative to step up coordinated efforts against drug trafficking. President Dmitry Medvedev said that "the efforts of our counter-narcotics departments will be pooled together... and we will actively work with the Afghan government to minimize the threats emanating from Afghanistan."
For Russia, the fight against drugs is becoming the number one priority. Drug addiction already poses a strategic threat to Russia, as it inflicts great harm on the country's demographic situation and gene pool. Every day 82 draft-age Russians die from drug use. Every year Russia loses about 30,000 young people to drugs. This is the official estimate. The real losses are much greater. Drug-related deaths, diseases and crime (including the cost of the correctional system, legal proceedings, etc.) are estimated to cost Russia 2.5% of GDP per year, or 2.5 trillion rubles. Drugs are not simply a problem for Russia; they represent a full-scale invasion that must be stopped.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.