World Trends in the Production, Trafficking and Consumption of Illicit Drugs

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1 World Trends in the Production, Trafficking and Consumption of Illicit Drugs A review of the research and statistics on the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs undertaken by Cindy Fazey (University of Liverpool) and Charlie Lloyd (Independent Research Consultant) has drawn the following conclusions: The UN has set itself the ambitious goals of eliminating or significantly reducing the production of coca, cannabis, opium and synthetic drugs and reducing the demand for such drugs by It is extremely difficult to measure trends in the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs. Statistics in this area are, almost inevitably, to some degree unreliable. Available information on global trends in the cultivation of opium and coca show dramatic increases over the 1970s and 80s, but comparative stability in the 1990s. There was a temporary drop in opium production in 2001, due to the ban imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but figures have bounced back in There has been a drop in Columbian coca cultivation in There has been a dramatic increase in the production and trafficking of methamphetamine in East and South East Asia over Cannabis seizures have also gone up over a similar period. Both trends have shown a downturn in Consumption of drugs appears to be stabilising or decreasing in many developed countries. However, problematic use appears to be escalating in many developing countries. 1

2 Increases in opiate injecting and associated transmission of HIV are being experienced in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, parts of India and China and some African countries. Survey trends in the USA and UK show quite similar patterns in cannabis use, with escalation over the 1970s and 80s, followed by a drop, followed by a slow increase over the 1990s. Ecstasy use has generally shown recent rapid increases in developed countries. However, different countries have experienced serious problems with different drugs at different times. Context In New York over the eighth to tenth of June, 1998, the United National General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs set the following ambitious drug policy targets for 2008: eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy, eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit manufacture, marketing and trafficking of psychotropic substances, including synthetic drugs and achieving significant and measurable results in the field of demand reduction. This review attempted to examine current trends in production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs, with a view to assessing progress towards these targets. Measuring the unmeasurable Attempts to estimate the world production and consumption of illicit drugs are fraught with difficulties. World figures are, in fact, impossible to obtain, but this must not obscure the fact that in some countries, and in some regions, governments have made considerable efforts to estimate the extent of illicit drug use in their country and also to estimate the production of illicit drugs that may be occurring elsewhere. Considerable improvements have been made in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the best information comes from the developed nations, which have the expertise and resources necessary to undertake studies of people whose behaviour is illegal and do not want it known to authorities. 2

3 Cultivation and production Opium By far the largest two current producers of opium are Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma), now responsible for approximately 75% and 20% of world production respectively. Trends in the cultivation and production of opium show rapid increases over the 1980s and early 1990s followed by relative stability since. One exception to this picture was the year 2001, when the Taliban imposed a ban on opium growing in Afghanistan, leading to a decline in global production. However, recent figures show a return to normal levels for Coca Despite sharp rises in Coca cultivation in the 1970s and 80s, the trend since has been relatively stable. However this has masked dramatic changes in individual countries: with massively reducing cultivation in Peru over the mid to late 1990s, offset by massively increasing cultivation in Columbia over this period. Recent estimates point to a drop in coca production in Columbia in 2002, as a consequence of intensive, US-supported, crop eradication efforts, but there are possible signs that this will not prove to have a long-term impact on global trends. Trafficking and seizures Seizures are a very imperfect measure of the extent of trafficking. However, trends show increasing seizures of opiates over the 1990s (save for a drop in 2001 reflecting the situation in Afghanistan) and fairly stable numbers of cocaine seizures. There were dramatic increases in methamphetamine seizures in East and South East Asia in the late 1990s and 2000 and increases in cannabis seizures over the same period. Both trends appear to have dropped back a little in Consumption Reliable data on consumption of drugs is simply unavailable for large areas of the world. It is nonetheless clear that a division is appearing between the fortunes of developed and developing countries. While trends in use in developed countries are largely stabilising or falling, increasing problems are being experienced in developing countries, especially where poverty and ready access 3

4 to drugs of addiction collide. A trend of paramount concern is the unprecedented rise in methamphetamine use in East and South East Asia, with tragic social consequences. There also appear to be worrying increases in opiate injecting and associated transmission of HIV in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, parts of India and China and some African countries. Trends in drug use in developed countries are bewilderingly complex not least because we have the data on changing use over time for individual drugs. There does seem to be a common pattern in the UK and USA for use of cannabis at least, with surveys suggesting rapidly increasing drug use among the general population over the 1970s and 80s, followed by decline, followed by slow increases over the 1990s. Trends in problematic use show different drugs causing problems at different times in different countries. Conclusions Analysis of trends in the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs makes quite gloomy reading for those hoping to see elimination or significant reduction. Looking across the piece, the main picture is one of either stability or increasing problems, with the most dramatic trend being the increase in methamphetamine use in East and South-East Asia. The impact that the Taliban had on opium production in Afghanistan shows that it is possible to radically reduce cultivation if only temporarily. However, the techniques employed by the Taliban are not ones that the UN could possibly endorse. The drop in cocaine production in Colombia also appears to offer some hope although we must wait to see what the longer term impact is. Large drops in coca cultivation have occurred before in the Andes only for the plants to pop up elsewhere: the so-called balloon effect. Unfortunately, the chances of the UN achieving its goals by 2008 therefore look remote. However, this is unsurprising: ultimately the trends described here are driven by forces largely beyond the control of the UN and the Governments represented there. Perhaps the primary force demand for drugs is extremely difficult to influence at the national level, let alone the global. On top of this, the profit motive will always ensure that there are poor people in impoverished areas of the world prepared to take the risks involved in the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. 4

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