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Pike, Brigid (2013) 2013 UN world drug report. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 47, Autumn 2013, p. 12.

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The UN’s annual report on the world drug situation1 shows that while the use of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine seems to be declining in some parts of the world, prescription drug abuse and new psychoactive substance abuse is growing.  

New psychoactive substances have proliferated at an unprecedented rate, rising from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012, an increase of more than 50%. This number exceeds the total number of substances (234) under international control.
While noting that different countries have adopted different responses to the spread of new psychoactive substances, for example early warning systems, emergency scheduling, generic scheduling (the option used in Ireland), or application of the medicines law, and that each has its pros and cons, the UN report argues that co-ordination at the global level is essential. Global co-ordination is the only means to ensure drug dealers do not exploit loopholes: ‘What is needed is an understanding and sharing of methods and lessons learned in regional responses to the situation involving new psychoactive substances before exploring the setting up of a global response to the problem’ (p.xiv).
The global picture for the use of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine shows some stability. In Europe, heroin use seems to be declining, while, the cocaine market seems to be expanding in South America and in the emerging economies in Asia. Use of opiates (heroin and opium), on the other hand, remains stable, although a high prevalence of opiate use has been reported from South-West and Central Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and North America.
In terms of production, Afghanistan retained its position as the lead producer and cultivator of opium globally (75% of global illicit opium production in 2012). But given a poor yield in 2012, owing to a plant disease affecting the opium poppy in Afghanistan, global opium production fell to 3% less than in 2011 and 40% less than in the peak year of 2007. The world's largest cocaine seizures, unadjusted for purity, continue to be reported from Colombia and the US. Cocaine use continues to fall in the US, the world's largest cocaine market. In contrast, significant increases in seizures have been noted in Asia, Oceania and Central and South America, and the Caribbean in 2011. Africa is emerging as a target for the trafficking as well as production of illicit substances.
The use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), excluding ecstasy, remains widespread globally and appears to be increasing in most regions. The prevalence of ecstasy in 2011 was lower than in 2009. Methamphetamine continues to dominate the ATS business, accounting for 71% of global ATS seizures in 2011. Methamphetamine pills remain the predominant ATS in East and South-East Asia. Seizures of crystal methamphetamine in the region increased to 8.8 tons, the highest level during the past five years, indicating that the substance is an imminent threat. Mexico recorded its largest seizures of methamphetamine, more than doubling within a year from 13 tons to 31 tons, thus representing the largest reported seizures globally.
Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit substance. While cannabis use has clearly declined among young people in Europe over the past decade, there was a minor increase in the prevalence of cannabis users, as compared with previous estimates in 2009.
There continues to be a major shortfall in the delivery of treatment services for drug dependence: only an estimated one in six problem drug users had received treatment in the preceding year. However, the report shows that there have been some improvements. Those countries which implemented a comprehensive set of HIV interventions were able to achieve a reduction in high-risk behaviours and in the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections.
Compiled by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the report is released each year on International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, 26 June. In his preface to the report, UNODC executive director, Yury Fedotov, writes: ‘We have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system, in the violence generated by trafficking in illicit drugs, in the fast evolving nature of new psychoactive substances, and in those national legislative measures which may result in a violation of human rights.’
Fedotov argues, however, that the solution is not to amend the Conventions, but to implement them according to their underlying spirit. The problem will not be resolved if drugs are legalised: organised crime is highly adaptive, and will simply move to other businesses that are equally profitable and violent. The underlying spirit of the Conventions, according to UNODC’s executive director, is health: ‘Advocacy for a stronger health perspective and an interconnected re-balancing of drug control efforts must take place. As experience has shown, neither supply reduction nor demand reduction on their own are able to solve the problem. For this reason, a more balanced approach in dealing with the drug problem is a necessity. This includes more serious efforts on prevention and treatment, not only in terms of political statements, but also in terms of funds dedicated for these purposes.’
1. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2013) World drug report 2013. Vienna: UNODC. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20073/
Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 47, Autumn 2013.
October 2013
Page Range
p. 12
Health Research Board
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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