The World Drug Report 2010, issued overnight by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that drug use is shifting towards new drugs and new markets. Drug cultivation is declining in Afghanistan (for opium) and the Andean countries (coca), and drug use has stabilized in the developed world. However, there are signs of an increase in drug use in developing countries, and growing abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and prescription drugs around the world.
The global number of people using amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) - estimated at around 30-40 million - is soon likely to exceed the number of opiate and cocaine users combined. There is also evidence of increasing abuse of prescription drugs. The ATS market is harder to track because of short trafficking routes (manufacturing usually takes place close to main consumer markets), and the fact that many of the raw materials are both legal and readily available. Manufacturers are quick to market new products (like ketamine, piperazines, Mephedrone and Spice) and exploit new markets. “These new drugs cause a double problem. 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,” the organisation said.
The number of ATS-related clandestine laboratories reported increased by 20 per cent in 2008, including in countries where such labs had never been detected in the past. Manufacture of ‘ecstasy’ has increased in North America (notably in Canada) and in several parts of Asia, and use seems to be increasing in Asia. In another demonstration of the fluidity of drug markets, ecstasy use in Europe has plummeted since 2006.
Cannabis remains the world’s (and Australia’s) most widely produced and used illicit substance: it is grown in almost all countries of the world, and is smoked by 130-190 million people at least once a year — though these parameters are not very telling in terms of addiction. The fact that cannabis use is declining in some of its highest value markets, namely North America and parts of Europe, is another indication of shifting patterns of drug abuse.
UNODC found evidence of indoor cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes in 29 countries, particularly in Europe, Australia and North America. Indoor growing is a lucrative business and is increasingly a source of profit for criminal groups. Based on evidence gathered in 2009, Afghanistan is now the world’s leading producer of cannabis resin (as well as opium).