The supply and use of synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy and amphetamines is soaring worldwide in part because the public doesn't realize how dangerous they can be, a U.N. report said Tuesday.
The report, presented at a news conference in Rome, estimated that global use of Ecstasy rose by 70 percent between 1995-1997 and 2000-2001, while use of amphetamines rose by 40 percent over the same period.
More than 40 million people worldwide, or 1 percent of all people 15 years or older, used amphetamine-type stimulants, known as ATS, in 2000-2001, the report said.
The report said that seizures of these stimulants rose from around four tons in 1990-1991 to almost 40 tons in 2000-2001 and estimated the global value of the ATS industry at around US$65 billion each year.
The report, by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said most users are concentrated in Europe, North America and Asia, while manufacturers are found in the United States and Europe.
"The danger posed by synthetic drugs is already real and is advancing relentlessly" said the report, the first U.N. global survey on Ecstasy and amphetamines.
Use of these drugs can cause dependence, loss of memory and premature decline of other mental functions, the report said, adding the drugs are wrongly "perceived as less harmful than other illicit substances, like heroin and cocaine."
Officials presenting the report called for governments to raise awareness about the dangers of ATS abuse and to crack down on suppliers.
"Government responses have to be stronger and better coordinated," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. agency.
John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, called for a coordinated global campaign.
"We need leadership in the countries that are now sources of production, we need leadership and treatment and prevention and demand reduction programs, and we need to follow through internationally so that the criminals who live off poison and slavery do not use international boundaries as shields," Walters told reporters.
The report found that use of such stimulants is concentrated among 18-to-20 year olds.
Synthetic drugs "take away young lives at the moment of their greatest promise," said Walters.
Ecstasy use among 15-16 year olds in the United States is around three times greater than in Europe but declined slightly in 2001-2002.
Officials said information about the manufacture of ATS is still incomplete.
"There are an awful lot of holes in the report," said Dr. Howard Stead, chief of the scientific section of the U.N. agency and an author of the report.
The energy and euphoria produced by taking Ecstasy and amphetamines make them widespread staples at dance parties and discotheques.