UNODC: heroin, cocaine consumption falls, synthetic drugs use on rise
Global drug use is shifting from heroin and cocaine towards synthetic drugs, the UN said on Wednesday (June 23rd), also noting a growing demand for illicit substances in developing countries.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 155 million and 250 million people in the world, or between 3.5% and 5.7% of the population aged 15-64, used drugs at least once in 2008.
While cannabis remains the most widely produced and consumed illicit substance globally, synthetic drugs like amphetamine-type stimulants are now the second most commonly used drug, ahead of cocaine and opiates, it said in its World Drug Report 2010.
"People are saying goodbye to heroin and they are nearly not so much enchanted by cocaine, but they are starting to use prescription drugs by volumes, which make them addictive," UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa told reporters as he presented the report Wednesday.
According to the study, at least 130 million to 190 million people smoke cannabis at least once a year. The number of those using amphetamine-type stimulants totals an estimated 30 million to 40 million people worldwide, but could soon surpass that of opiate and cocaine users combined.
That trend is valid for the Southeast European (SEE) nations as well. The highest annual prevalence of cannabis among people aged 15-64 was found in Croatia, at 5.2%. It is followed by Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Bulgaria, where the share of cannabis users stood at 4.1%, 2.8% and 2.5%, respectively.
Synthetic drug consumption in the SEE region was highest in BiH and Bulgaria, where one out of every 100 people used amphetamine-type stimulants in 2008. It was lowest in Albania and Romania, at 0.1% each, with the latest statistics for the two countries dating back to 2004 and 2007, respectively.
"These new drugs cause a double problem," said Costa. "First, they are being developed at a much faster rate than regulatory norms and law enforcement can keep up. Second, their marketing is cunningly clever, as they are custom-manufactured so as to meet the specific preference in each situation."
Production of what the UNODC describes as the world's "main problem drugs" -- cocaine and heroin -- declined, and is expected to continue to do so, according to the report.
Coca cultivation in the Andes, which decreased by 28% over the past decade, continued to drop in 2009, largely due to eradication efforts in Colombia. World cocaine production fell by between 12% and 18% from 2007-2009, UNODC figures showed. Meanwhile, the market for that drug, worth an estimated $88 billion, is shifting towards Europe. It is severely destabilising countries in West Africa as well, the report said.
The number of cocaine users in Europe has doubled over the last decade to about 4 million people, who consumed about one quarter of the global production in 2008. North America remains the world's biggest market for that drug and is valued at $37 billion. But, the European one appears to have almost caught up, and is now worth $34 billion.
The highest prevalence of cocaine use on the "old" continent was found in Scotland (at 3.9%), England and Wales, and Italy, at 3% in each. In each of the SEE countries, it was lower than 1%. It was 0.9% in Croatia and 0.8% in Montenegro.
The global area under opium cultivation has shrunk by almost a quarter in the past two years, the UNODC said, adding that opium production will likely decline further, due to a blight that could wipe out a quarter of Afghanistan's poppy crop.
In Europe, the prevalence of heroin use was found to be highest in Scotland at 1.54% and Estonia, at 1.52%. Among the SEE countries, it was highest in Macedonia at 0.5%, Bulgaria at 0.49% and Albania, with 0.45%.
Costa voiced particular concern about the impact of drug consumption in the developing world.
"Poor countries are not in a position to absorb the consequences of increased drug use," he said. "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."
The Independent, UK Press Association - 24/06/10; Reuters, AP, AFP, DPA, BBC, RFE/RL, VOA, Sofia News Agency, UN Office on Drugs and Crime - 23/06/10)