Monday, June 26, 2006

Global Drug War Is Being Won, Illegal Use `Contained,' UN Says


The world is winning the war on drugs, according to a United Nations report that said opium production might soon be eradicated in Asia's notorious ``Golden Triangle'' and coca cultivation in the Andean region of South American has decreased 25 percent since 2000.

``Drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained,'' Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a statement accompanying the release today of the agency's 2006 World Drug Report. ``In the past few years, worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have halted a quarter-century-long rise in drug abuse.''

The report said opium production decreased 5 percent in 2005, and described cocaine production and the global market for amphetamine-type stimulants as ``stable.'' Illegal drug use has been limited to 5 percent of people aged 15 to 64, about 200 million users worldwide in a year, including 25 million addicts, according to the UN.

Continuing concerns include rising global use of marijuana, signs that opium production will increase in Afghanistan this year, cocaine abuse in Western Europe and the manufacture of methamphetamines in Southeast Asia. Marijuana and hashish are the most widely used drugs in the world, by an estimated 162 million people, the UN agency said.


The UN's optimism should be viewed with skepticism, according to Jeffrey Miron, processor of economics at Boston University and a drug policy analyst for the Independent Institute, an Oakland, California-based research organization.

``If you read these reports over time from the UN or the U.S. drug czar, you see a constant up and down, from claims of victory to statements that things are horrible,'' Miron said in an interview. ``You tend to find that a problem that is solved one place shifts to another. There will always be some uses going up and some going down, and these reports don't address issues like the costs of drug use from diseases spread by needles or infringements on civil rights from the drug war.''

Sandeep Chawla, the report's co-author, credited a combination of education, enforcement and eradication programs begun in 1909, when the U.S. organized the first international conference on illegal drugs in Shanghai.

``The drug control system began there,'' Chawla said. ``World opium production was 30,000 tons then; now it's around 5,000 tons. If the drug market had been as unregulated since then as tobacco, it would have spread well beyond 5 percent perhaps to the 30 percent that use tobacco now.''

Opium Production

Opium poppy cultivation decreased 22 percent last year, to 374,634 acres (151,609 hectares), due to lower cultivation in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Laos, the UN said. With an estimated opium production of 14 tons, Laos might soon be ``opium poppy free,'' according to the report.

In Afghanistan, where opium poppy cultivation decreased last year for the first time since 2001, when the radical Islamist Taliban regime was deposed, planting increased early this year.

``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.

The area of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru under coca cultivation was unchanged last year, and well below levels recorded in 2000, the UN said. Cultivation decreased 8 percent in Bolivia and 4 percent in Peru last year, while it increased by 8 percent in Colombia.

By Bill Varner


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