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UN Report: Global Drug Abuse Under Control

The United Nations says there is growing evidence that the worldwide epidemic of drug abuse is being brought under control. In this year's World Drug Report, the United Nations notes there have been significant and positive changes in world drugs markets and that run-away addiction has slowed. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the report was released.

The U.N. Drug Report shows global markets for illicit drugs largely stabilized in 2005 and 2006. It says the cultivation, production, and consumption of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines seem to have been brought under control.

It says coca cultivation in the Andean countries continues to fall, driven by significant declines in Colombia. It says the global demand for cocaine also has stabilized. But, it notes the decline in the United States is offset by alarming increases in some European countries.

The report says the production and consumption of amphetamines has leveled off and for the first time in years, the global production and consumption of cannabis has not gone up.

While all this is good news, the United Nations is quick to say that huge problems with illicit drug abuse remain. It warns against complacency and says the situation could easily deteriorate again.

The United Nations finds opium cultivation has declined in Myanmar, Laos and the rest of the world. But, it says it increased dramatically in Afghanistan in 2006. The main author of the Report, Thomas Pietschmann, says the southern province of Helmand, which is largely under the control of the Taleban, is on the verge of becoming the world's biggest drug supplier.

"We see a very, very close link between drug production and insurgency and security or lack of security," said Thomas Pietschmann. "But, it is also clear that the original strategy of the allied forces to ignore the opium poppy was not particularly successful because it created all the financial revenues for the insurgency to operate and become even more powerful."

The Report puts the value of the illicit drugs market at $322 billion a year.

It says Africa is being targeted by traffickers seeking new routes, including cocaine traffickers from Colombia and heroin smugglers from Afghanistan. Pietschmann says there is a spillover effect from the increased trafficking and this is leading to growing drug consumption in Africa.

"People are getting paid in drugs," he said. "In order to make this into money they have to sell it. They do not have other possibilities, so they sell the drugs locally and the market is being created. And, thus we see also in Africa increasingly markets being created for heroin and for cocaine even though the levels if you compare it to America or to Europe are still very small."

Pietschmann calls this situation alarming. He says Africa is a poor continent and cannot deal with a plague of drug abuse and addiction.

The report says drug law enforcement has improved and large seizures of cocaine and heroin have helped contain the drug problem. At the same time, it notes there are 25 million problem drug users in the world. It says more attention must be paid to drug prevention and treatment.