BANGKOK (Reuters) - Global production of opium fell 38 percent in 2010 as plant disease hit crops in top producer Afghanistan, but output in second-largest producer Myanmar jumped after a big increase in land under cultivation, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its annual World Drug Report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said heroin consumption has stabilized in Europe while cocaine consumption has declined in North America, which it described as “the most lucrative markets” for those drugs.
But there were worrying trends: a big increase in cocaine use in Europe and South America over the past decade, the recent expansion of heroin use in Africa and the increased abuse of synthetic “designer drugs” and prescription drugs in places.
Yury Fedotov, UNODC’s executive director, noted in the report some progress in the prevention of drug use and said more should be done to facilitate “healthy and fulfilling alternatives” so that drug use was not accepted as a way of life.
“On the demand side, there is growing recognition that we must draw a line between criminals (drug traffickers) and their victims (drug users), and that treatment for drug use offers a far more effective cure than punishment,” he added.
Various plant diseases combined to cut Afghanistan’s opium production in half last year and UNODC said production could fall a little further in 2011.
The country accounted for 74 percent of global opium production in 2010, down from 88 percent in 2009.
Myanmar’s share of global production reached 12 percent, up from 5 percent in 2007. The area under cultivation there fell by 21 percent to 185,900 hectares (459,400 acres) between 2007 and 2009 but it rose to 195,700 hectares last year, UNODC said.
Myanmar’s military rulers said in March that nearly one-sixth of the country’s illicit opium crop had been destroyed.
A nominally civilian government has taken over since but the army still pulls the strings behind the scenes. Analysts say several top generals enjoy close ties with Burmese businessmen linked to the opium trade.
The global area under coca cultivation shrank in 2010, declining 6 percent to 149,100 hectares (368,000 acres). UNODC said cocaine production had fallen sharply in Colombia since 2007, which offset increases in Peru and Bolivia.
In 2009, the use of cocaine had substantially declined in North America, although the 5.7 million users there accounted for more than a third of all cocaine users worldwide.
“While there are stable or downward trends for heroin and cocaine use in major regions of consumption, this is being offset by increases in the use of synthetic and prescription drugs,” it said.
“Non-medical use of prescription drugs is reportedly a growing health problem in a number of developed and developing countries.”
UNODC estimated that between 3.3 percent and 6.1 percent of the world’s population aged 15 to 64 used illicit drugs in 2009, the latest year for which data was available, with cannabis by far the most widely used substance.
The wide range reflected a lack of information from populous countries such as China and India, as well as from Africa, where consumption is on the rise, it said.
Global seizures of ATS drugs (amphetamine-type stimulants) hit a record high in 2009, UNODC said.
“Africa is a region of concern with regard to the trafficking of ATS,” it said, noting that West Africa was emerging as a new source of methamphetamine for markets in East Asia.
Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Alan Raybould and Yoko Nishikawa