June 29, 2005

Illegal drug use rose last year, UN report says

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The number of people around the worldtaking drugs such as cocaine, heroin and cannabis rose lastyear by about 15 million to 200 million, the United Nationsannual drugs report said on Wednesday.

The value of the global drugs trade, which it estimated at$320 billion, is higher than the gross domestic product (GDP)of 90 percent of the world's nations, it added.

"This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It isa monster," Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office onDrugs and Crime, said in the report, released in the Swedishcapital.

Cannabis was the most widely used drug, being taken by 160million people, but the report said the main problem drugscontinued to be opiates, heroin and then cocaine, as these werethe ones for which people asked for treatment.

The outlook for the market for such drugs would bedetermined by conditions in major producer Afghanistan.

It said presidential elections there in 2004 meant thepicture was slightly more positive, as the government wasstrengthening its control over the economy.

The area under poppy cultivation had also gone down in 2005compared with 2004. But question marks remained.

"It is, however, not yet certain whether the reduction ofthe land under opium poppy cultivation would be sufficient tooffset a possibly higher yield than observed in 2004," it said.

The report said opium production in South-East Asia was 78percent lower than in 1996.

"If the declines witnessed over the last few years aresustained, it would not be too far outside the realm ofpossibility that South-East Asia could become virtually free ofillicit cultivation over the next few years." it said.

However, South American cocaine output did not fall and thearea under cultivation rose in both Bolivia and Peru.

"This is a worrying loss of momentum for both countries,which had already made significant progress to curb cocaproduction," it said.

The international community needed to continue to supportprograms to allow farmers to grow alternative crops, it said.