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World drug prevention effort working: report

Agence France Presse, June 26, 2006

Vienna  - Worldwide efforts to fight the use of illegal drugs are working but this positive result could easily be reversed, a United Nations drug report said Monday.

 "Drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained,"  Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said upon publication of the 2006 World Drug Report by his agency in Vienna.

 "Worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have effectively reversed a quarter-century-long rise in drug abuse that, if left unchecked, could have become a global pandemic," Costa said in a statement released along with the report.

 The UNODC said there had been major successes in 2005 in the so-called Golden Triangle of southeast Asia.

 In this region where Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand and Laos meet, Myanmar has reduced opium poppy cultivation -- which can be used to produce heroin, morphine and opium -- by 26 per cent while Laos cut it by as much as 72 per cent and was "on the verge of becoming opium poppy free."

 In central Asia, in Afghanistan, which is the world's main producer of opium, poppy cultivation was down for the first time since 2001 but it could go up again this year, the UNODC report warned.

 "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," Costa said, adding that "this could happen as early as 2006."

 Cannabis, or marijuana, the world's most widely used drug, has seen a steady increase in consumption over the past decade and this rise in use is continuing, the report said.

 Of the 200 million people or five per cent of the world's population aged 15-64 who use drugs at least once a year, 162 million use cannabis, 2004 figures show.

 Production and demand are also increasing, but given the ease with which cannabis can be grown and the widespread way in which it is consumed, with people often sharing a marijuana joint, or cigarette, "it is difficult to estimate the size of the global market," the report said.

 While it has been regarded as a soft and relatively harmless drug, cannabis is growing in potency.

 "Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin," Costa said.

 He hit out at Western and celebrity lifestyles that have led to an alarming increase in cocaine consumption in Europe, which accounts for 26 per cent of world cocaine use, despite the global trend showing a slight decline in recent years.

 "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," Costa said.

 A global approach is therefore needed to tackle the drug problem, with rich and poor countries getting involved in a coordinated way, Costa said.

 "A coherent, long-term strategy can reduce supply, demand and trafficking... if this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue seriously and pursue inadequate policies," Costa said.

 He said that "many countries have the drug problem they deserve."

 Cocaine seizures continue to increase globally thanks to better law enforcement cooperation, but as a result West and Central Africa are now being used more and more as transit points for the traffic of drugs from Latin America to Europe.

 It is up to richer Western countries -- the drug consumers -- to help the developing world fight the drug problem, whether by assisting African countries in tackling corrupt law enforcement or giving South American coca farmers the investments they need to switch to legal crops, Costa said.

 "Greater global success will depend on the commitment of all our societies to turn containment of the drug problem into a sustained reduction - everywhere. We are not there yet," Costa said.