U.S. Information Agency
United Nations -- Use of illicit drugs has increased throughout the world in recent years and medical and police data "make clear that consumption has become a truly global phenomenon," a new international drug study reported.
Marijuana and hashish are the most widely used, but the abuse of heroin and cocaine has far more serious health effects, according to the report by the U.N. Drug Control Program (UNDCP). A major trend around the world "is the increasing availability of many kinds of drugs to an ever-widening, socio-economic spectrum of consumers."
The report was released on June 26, the "International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking."
UNDCP estimates that about 3.3 to 4.1 percent of the global population consumes illicit drugs. "The drug most widely abused is cannabis, which is consumed by about 2.5 percent of the global population. This equals about 140 million people worldwide," the report said.
The largest market for drug abuse is the United States, said Giorgio Giacomelli, UNDCP executive director. "But what is more worrisome is that people that are easily hooked are younger and younger every year."
According to the report the use of marijuana and cocaine among eighth-grade students in the United States doubled between 1991 and 1994 with the average age of initiation into marijuana use being 13.9 years.
"In Pakistan it is reported that the share of those who started heroin use at 15-20 years has doubled to almost 24 percent of those surveyed; in China drug use is going up while the age of new users is going down," the report said.
A survey of drug users in the Czech Republic showed that 37 percent of new problem users were 15 to 19 years old. In the Slovak capital of Bratislava almost 50 percent of registered drug addicts were also in the 15 to 19 age group. In Bulgaria the average age of initiation into drug use in the mid-1970s was 18.5 years, a decade later it was 14 to 16 for heroin and 12 or less for other substances, the report said.
The growing importance of African ports and airports as transit routes and the involvement of Africans as couriers are thought to be contributing factors in the expansion of nearly all forms of drug abuse in Africa, the report said.
"Drugs -- in particular heroin -- are becoming a serious problem in Egypt, where around 6 percent of a broad sample of secondary school students admitted to having experimented. Cannabis accounted for 85 percent of use, opium for 10 percent," it said.
While the rates of use in Africa are low compared to industrialized countries, they are a cause for concern, UNDCP said. "More than 25 percent of students (in Nigeria) said it was 'very easy' to obtain a wide variety of illegal drugs; crack cocaine has appeared in Lagos and, on the basis of reports from schools in four regions, LSD has also entered the market."
"In South Africa prevalence rates were of a similar magnitude, but included the smoking of a mixture of cannabis and methaqualone. Cannabis is already a popular drug among secondary school students in Lagos; heroin is now cheaply available and consumption patterns have shifted from use by an affluent minority to marginalized young unemployed males," the report said.
In recent years the most pronounced increase in drug abuse has been reported for synthetic drugs, the report said. "This rise includes the abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Some 30 million people -- 0.5 percent of global population -- more than heroin and probably more than cocaine, consume ATS worldwide."
A wave of synthetic stimulant abuse began in the mid-1980's. Approximately nine times the quantity of the drugs were seized in 1993 than in 1978, the equivalent to an average annual increase of 16 percent, the report said.
"In contrast to the localized outbreaks of abuse in distinct countries in the past, amphetamine-type stimulants are now consumed in practically every region of the world," it said.
UNDCP published the 332-page book in hopes it will contribute to separating the myth from reality surrounding illicit drugs, Giacomelli said. The first ever comprehensive overview of the status of drug and related phenomena, "The World Drug Report" presents a comprehensive overview by respected researchers of global production, trafficking, consumption, theories and interpretations on drug use, health and social consequences such as loss of productivity in the workplace and public policies such as deployment of police resources.
Eight "country profiles" -- Australia, Colombia, Italy, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States -- try to provide insight into national drug situations, problems and policies.
"Almost everyone has an opinion about drugs. It is an issue we all think we know something about and almost daily we read something and hear something from the media," said Giacomelli. "On the other hand, it is an area about which it is hard to assemble concrete data.
"This is hardly surprising given that the manufacture, buying, selling and consumption of drugs are all by their nature furtive and secretive activities. In addition, some aspects are extremely controversial and other highly political which may easily lead to the misinterpretations of facts and figures," Giacomelli said.
Throughout the past decade, "seizures of most major drugs have risen," according to the report. The most heavily trafficked drug is cannabis -- in 1995, 4,000 tons of various kinds of cannabis were seized.
Global cocaine seizures amounted to 251 tons in 1995 with heroin seizures at 31 tons and morphine seizures at 13 tons, the report said.
Many estimates have been made of the total revenue accruing to the illicit drug industry, the report said. "Most range from $300,000 million to $500,000 million, however a growing body of evidence suggests that the true figure lies somewhere around $400,000 million."
"A $400,000 million turnover would be equivalent to approximately 8 percent of total international trade. In 1994 this figure would have been larger than the international trade in iron and steel and motor vehicles and about the same size as the total international trade in textiles," it said.
In 1996 more than 90 percent of worldwide coca bush cultivation took place in Peru, Bolivia and Columbia, with Peru alone accounting for more than half of the world total. The cultivation of the opium poppy has been dominated by Afghanistan and Myanmar which represent three-quarters of global production.
Between 1982 and 1992 world opium production more than doubled and coca leaf output increased more than 300 percent, the report said. Opium growing is expanding rapidly in China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mexico. Colombia, which still manufactures some 70 to 80 percent of the world's refined cocaine, is now among the world's top producers of opium with an estimated 20,000 hectares under poppy cultivation.
Cannabis grows naturally throughout the world, making any calculation about its cultivation difficult. But the report said large-scale production takes place in the United States, South Africa, Morocco, the central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Mexico and Jamaica.
"Using various routes which traverse Europe and Asia and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, criminal groups operating in southwest Asia supply the bulk of the European heroin market while those operating out of southeast Asia supply the market in North America," the report said.
Government strategies to reduce supplies have focused on cutting the connection between the supplier and the consumer and eliminating sources. The types of measures depend on the strategy and point in the supply chain at which it is aimed. Three basic types aimed at the growers are eradication, substitution and alternative development, the report said.
The most difficult part of any drug control project, especially crop substitution is "the invisible one," Giacomelli said. "It is the beginning which sometimes can last one or two years -- in which you gain the confidence of, and overcome the ancestral suspicion of peasants."
He said that "now at a time when everybody wants quick results it is extremely difficult" to make donor governments -- who are responsible to taxpayers and parliaments -- understand how long it takes to get a drug control program on sure footing.
Relating a conversation he had with the king of Thailand, Giacomelli said that the king "told me to deliver the message that it took him 27 years to convince the peasants. 'I went at my own risk and peril to talk to them. It took me 27 years, but I succeeded in eliminating poppy production.'"
In Peru there is evidence that trafficking organizations have formed "strategic alliances" with guerrilla groups to ensure the supply of coca leaves to Colombian manufacturing sites, the report said. In Myanmar and Afghanistan, such alliances are also thought to be common.
With the dominance of the infamous Cali cartel in Colombia hurt by the imprisonment of most of its leadership, cocaine trafficking has been decentralized, the report said, and new groups are expanding -- such as the Mexico-based Gulf cartel.
Money laundering -- filtering illicit profits of the drug trade through banks and other outlets to make the profits appear to come from a legitimate source -- is a vital component of drug trafficking.
Two trends have characterized money laundering in recent years: increasing professionalization and internationalization, the report said.
Criminal organizations increasingly subcontract the task of money laundering to specialized professionals because the methods required to circumvent law enforcement authorities are becoming ever more complex. Professionals are used not only to conceal the origin of the money but also to manage subsequent investments, the report said.
In becoming more international, it said, "money-laundering is in fact simply following the global macro-economic trend of legitimate goods and services."