The worldwide epidemic of drug abuse is being brought under control according to a UN report out on Tuesday. But while opium production has declined in countries like Myanmar and Morocoo, it remains a major problem for Afghanistan which is about to become the world’s largest drug supplier.
This is not a time for complacency according to Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes: “The world drugs situation has been contained in the sense that it was a runaway train, it was a situation out of control, now it’s under control. There is stability overall for the production, for the trafficking, for the abuse, whatever commodity you are thinking about: heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana.”
While the amount of land under illicit poppy cultivation has fallen by 10 percent globally, opium production has soared to a record high, with Afghanistan responsible for more than 90 percent of the world’s production. Coca cultivation in the Andes continues to fall but Colombia remains the world’s leading producer of cocaine.
It is a similar scenario for hashish. Morocco remains the principal provider. With some 160 million annual customers, cannabis provides the largest illicit drug market by far. Drug abuse is one of the priorities of the UN report. The world counts an estimated 200 million drug addicts or nearly five percent of the world population.
For Antonio Maria Costa, the problem of marijuana is especially serious: “Marijuana smokers are not just getting high, they are getting sick. Permanently sick. The destructive potency of that drug is so high now, ten times bigger than it was when I was a kid. And it can do as much damage as the other narcotics.”
The biggest challenge is to help the producers who, willingly or forcefully, give up producing the raw material: opium, coca or cannabis. Many are offered no subsidies. They need assistance and a viable alternative – essential elements for these farmers to be able to retain a livelihood in countries often plagued by insecurity and corruption.