GLOBAL DRUG TRADE WORTH $321 BILLION, UNITED NATIONS SAYS Growth In Narcotics Smuggling Linked To Financing Of Terrorism, Spread Of AIDS UNITED NATIONS - The UN has, for the first time, estimated the worth of the global illegal drug trade, saying in a report yesterday it exceeds the annual production of goods and services in almost 90 per cent of the world's countries. At $321 billion U.S., only large, rich countries have a greater gross domestic product than the total street takings from illegal drugs around the globe, and the figure is close to Ontario's GDP, which was $472 billion in 2004. The illegal drug trade also continues to grow, and is increasingly linked to the financing of terrorism and the spread of AIDS, UN officials warn. But production has been rolled back in some areas, notably following crackdowns in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, which have traditionally been called the "Golden Triangle" of opium poppy cultivation. The report says the three countries could be largely "opium free" by 2007, though there are additional concerns that reduced cultivation is at the expense of an increase in human rights abuses and more widespread poverty as farmers are prevented from growing the only cash crop they have ever known. The annual report comes from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which says the negative impacts of the drug trade touch every society in the world. "This is not a small enemy ... it is a monster," said Antonio Maria Costa, head of the Vienna-based agency. "With such an enormous amount of capital at its disposal, it is bound to be an extremely tenacious one." He said he feared the success against opium production in the Golden Triangle could be reversed by an increase in cultivation in Afghanistan -- the world's largest producer of opiates, which include heroin. "The story of heroin production today is basically the story of Afghanistan," Ms. Costa said. The report says the world's illegal drug trade is contributing to the spread of AIDS, not only through people sharing needles, but also because drug users -- whether they've injected the drugs or not -- are often more likely to have unprotected sex. One way the drug trade is financing international terrorism is through the tolls traffickers must pay terrorist organizations in producing countries, officials say. "Terrorist groups in many producing countries have checkpoints where they demand money from traffickers for the right to pass," explained Simone Monasebian, chief of the agency's New York branch. "The amounts may be individually small, but they add up to enormous sums, which is helping terrorists worldwide." The report says profits in the drug trade are down the line, pegging the estimated wholesale figure at $94 billion U.S. About 200 million people -- or five per cent of the world's population -- between the ages of 15 and 64 have used illegal drugs at least once in the last year, said the report. That's up by 15 million from the year before, but still far below the 30 per cent of the world's population who smoke tobacco, or 50 per cent who drink alcohol. North America accounts for 44 per cent of the world market, Europe 33 per cent and Africa four per cent, the report notes.