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The Global War on Drugs — An Update

Which countries and regions are most affected by illicit drugs?

September 7, 2004

Which countries and regions are most affected by illicit drugs?

Even though the topic has faded from the headlines, illegal drugs continue to be a major problem around the world. The UN's 2004 World Drug Report outlines the major regions in the world where drugs are consumed and produced — and what steps are being taken to address the problem. We present the key findings.

How many drug users are there worldwide?

The total number of drug users in the world is now estimated at some 185 million people — equivalent to 3% of the global population, or 4.7% of the population aged 15 to 64.

What is the world's most widely used illegal drug?

As of 2004, marijuana is the most widely used drug, with close to 150 million users worldwide. It is followed by amphetamine-type stimulants (about 38 million users).

What is the global trend for the most common illegal drugs?

Data of global drug seizures for the 1990-2000 period shows a decline in the relative importance of cannabis, the rapid emergence of amphetamine-type stimulants, an increase in opiates — and an increase, followed by a stabilization, of cocaine.

What about the regional distribution of seizures of various drugs?

In unit terms, seizures are the highest in the Americas (10.4 billion doses of all illicit drugs combined), followed by Europe (7.4 billion), Asia (5.5 billion), Africa (2.4 billion) and Oceania (0.08 billion).

Where do the most cocaine seizures take place?

In 2002, 55% of all cocaine seizures took place in South America, followed by North America (32%) and Europe (13%).

Looking at the supply side, is cocaine production increasing or decreasing?

In 2003, world cocaine production was 655 tons — down from 800 tons in 2002.

Where is most of the world's cocaine produced?

In 2003, the majority of all coca cultivation — the plant used to produce cocaine — took place in Colombia (56%) — followed by Peru (29%) and Bolivia (15%).

And on the demand side, how big a problem is cocaine use in the United States?

As of 2002, the annual prevalence of cocaine use in the United States was 2.5% of the population aged 12 and above.

How big a problem are opiate-based drugs, such as heroin?

As of 2004, while more than 13 million people worldwide use cocaine, some 9 million use heroin.

What makes opiates so dangerous?

As of 2004, opiates are the most serious problem drug in the world, accounting for 67% of drug treatment in Asia, 61% in Europe — and 47% in Oceania.

How much opium is being produced each year?

Global illicit production of opium has been about 4,000 to 5,000 tons a year since the early 1990s.

What country provides most of the world's opium supply?

In 2003, 3,600 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan, the second-highest opium production in the country’s history — and more than 75% of the world’s illicit opium supply.

Is all the news bad?

Between 2000 and 2002, the number of drug-related deaths in Western Europe — mostly related to heroin — fell about 20%.

Which country is Europe's largest heroin market?

As of 2004, Europe’s largest heroin market is Russia. Its total number of drug users is estimated to be three to four million people — of whom 33% are heroin abusers.

In what regions of the world are injecting drugs the biggest problem?

Data from 1998-2003 shows that there are about 13 million injecting drug users worldwide — 78% of them in developing countries. Some 3.3 million are living in South and South East Asia, 3.2 million are in Eastern Europe and Central Asia — and 2.3 million are in East Asia and the Pacific.

How large is the annual production of amphetamine-type stimulants?

As of 2002, the annual global production of methamphetamines and amphetamines is estimated at around 410 tons — with ecstasy production estimated at 113 tons.

For the full 2004 UN World Drug Report, please click here.