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Consumers shift to new drugs: U.N. world drug report

06-24-2010 09:43 BJT

VIENNA, June 23 (Xinhua) -- While cocaine and heroin consumption remained in decline, synthetic drugs were becoming increasingly popular, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The "World Drug Report 2010" released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted the growing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants and prescription drugs around the world.

It is estimated that around 30 to 40 million people have access to synthetic amphetamine-based substances. In an uptrend, the number will soon exceed the aggregate of heroin and cocaine addicts. Even the abuse of prescription drugs is increasing significantly.

UNODC Executive Director Antonia Maria Costa warned the global drug problem would not be solved if cocaine and heroin addicts drift off into other addictive substances, because they can be produced at zero marginal cost in illegal laboratories.

Due to very short smuggling routes of synthetic drugs, it was difficult to estimate the size of the market. But the number of reported laboratories for amphetamine derivatives, which were very flexible and adjusted quickly to new drug products, had increased by 20 percent in 2008, the report said.

This year’s report also showed global opium and coca cultivation was declining. Thus, global heroin production fell by 13 percent to 657 tons in 2009. Less opium poppy was grown both in Afghanistan and Burma.

The quantity of heroin currently on the market was much smaller, because more than 12,000 tons of Afghan opium was being stockpiled, around two and a half years of global illicit opiate demand, estimated UNDOC.

The global heroin market, estimated at about 55 billion US dollars, is concentrated in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and western European countries, which together consume half the heroin in the world, according to UNODC.

Only 2 percent of produced opiate was seized in Afghanistan although it is the largest supplier of opiates, accounting for 90 percent of supply in the world. Half of the world's heroin products were seized from the market in Iran and Turkey in 2008.

Along the northern route, less than 5 percent of the 90 tons of heroin that cross their territory towards Russia was seized, while in Russia only 4 percent of this was seized although it consumes 20 percent of the Afghan heroin output.

The report shows cocaine consumption has decreased significantly in the United States in the past few years. However, the problem has moved across the Atlantic, where in Europe the number of cocaine users doubled in the past decade, from 2 million in 1998 to 4.1 million in 2008.

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