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UN World Drug Report, 2009

Published June 25, 2009

The executive summary of the United Nations' yearly report on the world drug situation states,

"The year 2008 saw some encouraging reductions in the production of cocaine and heroin. In cooperation with the affected states, UNODC conducts annual crop surveys in the countries that produce the vast bulk of these drugs. These surveys show a reduction in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan of 19% and a reduction in coca cultivation in Colombia of 18%. Trends in other production countries are mixed, but are not large enough  to offset the declines in these two major producers. Although data are not complete enough to give a precise estimate of the global reduction in opium and coca production, there can be little doubt that it did, in fact, decrease.

Production of the other illicit drugs is more difficult to track, and data on drug use are also limited. But surveys of users in the world’s biggest markets for cannabis, cocaine and opiates suggest these markets are shrinking. According to recent surveys of young people in Western Europe, North America and Oceania, cannabis use appears to be declining in these regions. Data from the world’s biggest cocaine consuming region, North America, show a decrease, and the European market appears to be stabilizing. Reports from traditional opium-using countries in South-East Asia also suggest the use of this drug may be declining there. Heroin use in Western Europe appears to be stable.

In contrast, there are several indications that the global problem with amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) is worsening. Global seizures are increasing, and ATS are being made in a growing number of countries, with diversifying locations and manufacture techniques. Close to 30% of global seizures in 2007 were made in the Near and Middle East, where amphetamine use may also be significant. Methamphetamine precursors are increasingly being trafficked to Central and South America to manufacture ATS for the North American market, and local use also appears to be going up. The size of the ATS market is large, and likely still growing in East Asia. Data on ATS are particularly problematic, however, and UNODC is making a concerted effort to improve monitoring of trends in this area.

Of course, all these markets are clandestine, and tracking changes requires the use of a variety of estimation techniques. Data are sparse, particularly in the developing world, and the level of uncertainty in many matters is high. For the first time, this year’s World Drug Report is explicit about the level of uncertainty, presenting ranges rather than point estimates. This shift complicates comparison of this year’s estimates with estimates from previous
editions of the World Drug Report, but it is an essential step forward in presenting accurate estimates.

The level of uncertainty is smallest concerning the cultivation of coca and opium poppy, where scientific crop surveys have been made in the handful of countries that host the bulk of production. Scientific crop yield studies have also been done, but there is less certainty around
the production of these drugs than the cultivation of drug crops. Since synthetic drugs and cannabis can be produced almost anywhere in the world, less is known about their production. Trafficking patterns are reflected by seizure data, a mixed indicator that reflects both the underlying flow and enforcement action against it. Data on drug use comes from surveys and treatment information, but a limited number of countries collect this information. The level of uncertainty about drug use is not uniform, either across drug types or across regions. For example, there is less certainty concerning estimates of past-year ATS and cannabis users than there is around users of opiates and cocaine; more is known about drug use in Europe and the Americas than in Africa and parts of Asia."