UN sounds alarm over cocaine use in Europe
Cocaine consumption has reached alarming levels in Europe, with an estimated 3.5 million using the drug, a United Nations report warned Monday.
European users accounted for 26 per cent of the worldwide total in 2004, the largest concentration of which is in Western and Central Europe, the UN's 2006 World Drug Report said.
"Demand for cocaine is rising in western Europe to alarming levels," United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said.
"I urge European Union governments not to ignore this peril. 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."
However, the world's largest cocaine market continues to be the Americas, especially North America, which accounts for almost half the global total with its 6.5 million users in 2004.
The annual prevalence of abuse as a percentage of the population aged 15-64 was the highest in the United States with 2.8 per cent in 2004, followed by 2.7 per cent in Spain in 2003. Canada was not far behind with 2.3 per cent of the 15-64 population in 2004.
The report also found that marijuana consumption continued to rise while opium poppy cultivation worldwide was down 22 per cent in 2005.
Cannabis was used by an estimated 162 million people at least once in 2004, equivalent to some four per cent of the global population aged 15 to 64.
Costa warned that it would be complacent to dismiss cannabis as a "soft" and relatively harmless drug.
"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.
"National policies on cannabis vary and sometimes change from one year to the next. With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government."
The report attributed the decline in opium poppy cultivation to declines in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Laos, the three main source countries of illicit opium.
Laos, which until the mid-1990s was the third largest illicit opium producer in the world, cut opium cultivation by 72 per cent in 2005.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the area under opium poppy cultivation decreased for the first time since 2001.
Still, the UN watchdog pointed out that the war-torn country still accounted for 89 per cent of the worldwide production of opium, which is the main ingredient for heroin.
"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 cautioned. "This could happen as early as 2006 despite large-scale eradication of opium crops this spring."
The report concluded that drug controls overall appear to be working as levels of cultivation and addiction are much lower than they were 100 years ago.
"Even more importantly, in the past few years, 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.
However, he stressed that governments need to take action to curb both supply and demand.
"After so many years of drug control experience, we now know that a coherent, long-term strategy can reduce drug supply, demand and trafficking," Costa concluded.
"If this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue sufficiently seriously and pursue inadequate policies. Many countries have the drug problem they deserve."
The UN watchdog also reported that:
- Some 25 million people used amphetamines at least once in 2004, while some 10 million used ecstasy.
- The U.S. authorities again busted the largest number of methamphetamine laboratories -- over 17,000 in 2004, more than 90 per cent of the global total.
- While methamphetamine abuse remained even or declined among secondary students over the last few years, treatment demand for abuse of the drug has risen dramatically in the United States.