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UN Report Highlights Progress in Global Battle Against Illegal Drugs

A United Nations report says overall illegal drug production and consumption is being contained on a global basis, with significant reductions achieved in opium poppy cultivation.

U.N. counter-narcotics chief Antonio Costa says the international community has largely contained the global drug problem in terms of supply, demand and trafficking. But, speaking at a news conference in Washington, he said the scourge of illegal drugs is far from over.

"When I say 'containment worldwide' - it does not mean that all countries have moved in the same direction," said Antonio Costa. "Some countries have improved. In some other instances they have worsened."

In its annual World Drug Report, the U.N. Office on Drug Control and Crime says 2005 saw a 22- percent decline in the cultivation of opium poppy, the raw material used to produce heroin, with large reductions achieved in Southeast Asia. The report also notes that cocaine consumption is declining in the United States and the Americas as a whole.

But not all trends are favorable. The report also says cocaine and amphetamine consumption is on the rise in Europe, while marijuana consumption rates remain high in many parts of the world. Marijuana remains the most popular illegal drug, used by roughly four percent of the world's population, compared to one percent for all other drugs combined. Marijuana is also the world's most-interdicted illegal product, with more than 6,000 metric tons seized from 2002 to 2004, compared with 1,200 tons of coca leaf, 588 tons of cocaine, 209 tons of opium, and 60 tons of heroin.

Joining Costa at the news conference were officials from the Bush administration, including White House Drug Policy Director John Walters, who paid tribute to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for his counter-narcotics initiatives.

"No nation has done more to reduce drugs and terror than Colombia under the presidency of Uribe," said John Walters. "He has been aggressive, and the consequences have been the extension of the rule of law, economic growth, [and] the ability of a nation to pull itself back from drug trafficking and drug terror as never before."

But tempering that upbeat assessment was Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Anne Patterson, who noted that coca leaf cultivation appears to be on the rebound elsewhere in the Andean region, including Peru and Bolivia. Colombia has received some $4 billion in U.S. aid in recent years, much of it dedicated to counter-narcotics efforts. Patterson said Andean coca leaf cultivation data point to the need for continued U.S. engagement and cooperation with the region in combating illegal drugs.

Turning to opium poppy, Drug Policy Director Walters said Afghanistan is beginning to reverse recent increases in cultivation.

"We have made a remarkable partnership with President [Hamid] Karzai and the people of Afghanistan," he said. "In April, I visited Nangahar province where, between last year and the year before, over 90 percent of opium poppy cultivation dropped [was reduced]. The people of Afghanistan want rule of law. They want economic opportunity. They do not want to become share croppers to opium barons, drug lords, and terrorists."

The U.N.'s Antonio Costa says combating illegal drugs is not simply a matter of cracking down on production and trafficking. He said nations would do well to focus on demand for narcotics, and urged governments to expand prevention and treatment programs.

Overall, Costa said roughly five percent of the world's population consumes illegal drugs. He said that figure needs to be reduced, but added that, for now, the good news is that 95 percent of people are drug-free.