Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Winning the war on illicit drugs

The United Nations, 2006 World Drug Report is the most comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis of the global illicit drug situation. It is a 2-volume report with the first volume analyzing problems and the second providing an impressive global data base.

The general message is optimistic. Over recent years humanity has reversed a quarter-century-long rise in illicit drug consumption. There are now much lower levels of drug consumption and production than 100 years ago. A global drug pandemic has been averted. Despite the claims of skeptics coherent drug control strategies have worked to reduce illicit drug usage.

Specifically the area of land cultivated for coca and opium cultivation is lower than a few years ago and dramatically lower than 100 years ago. Specifically opium production is 80% less in a world that is more than 3-times bigger in terms of population. The number of addicts worldwide has stabilized over the past few years and is declined dramatically over the past 100 years.

On the positive side the infamous Golden Triangle could become opium-free within a few years and Andean coca cultivation has fallen by one quarter in recent years. After years of strong increases the market for amphetamine-type stimulants is stabilizing. On the negative side the reductions in opiate production in Afghanistan could easily be reversed, cocaine demand is growing strongly in Europe and the cannabis consumption problem is worsening just about everywhere. Cannabis is the world’s most abused illicit drug.

Of course too the abuse of licit drugs such as tobacco remains serious – about 28% of the world’s adult population use tobacco which greatly exceeds levels of illicit drug use (4% for cannabis, 1% for opiates, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants combined).

The main policy messages are that attention needs to focus particularly on demands for cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants. Treatments appropriate to these types of drugs need to be made more widespread. There is the urgent need to continue focusing on the spread of HIV/AIDS by injecting drug users.

The report is available online and I commend it.


James Dudek said...

How does the report differentiate between abuse and just plain old use.

I have a hard time believing that Cannabis is the most "abused" illicit drug.

Sam Ward said...

And all this at a bargain cost of only hundreds of thousands of human lives, trillions of dollars, and increasing erosion of basic freedoms and legal processes!

Hooray for the drug war!

conrad said...

I noticed a few weeks ago a report saying that marijuana is now the biggest crop in the US, showing that it is not only unstoppable but it also employs a fair few people too. Thus you can add "unemployment", and all the negative consequences of it, as an effect of the unwinnable war on drugs too.

hc said...

James, Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug. A significant number of users end up with dependence issues and/or with psychoses. It is not clear that cannabis is causal - it may be - but a risky association.

Sam, This report focuses on levels of use rather than policy. Its point is that use levels are falling. You are correct in pointing out that a policy advocacy case needs to look at enforcement costs and costs of intrusiveness.

Sam Ward said...

"Sam, This report focuses on levels of use rather than policy."

I realise that Harry. The reason it doesn't list the costs is because they are astronomical, and doing so would make them all look like monsters (which they are).

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