Worldwide opium production is increasing, driven by a sharp rise in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the United Nations said Friday in a report released in Russia, one of the prime routes for Afghan opium and heroin reaching the West.
Opium poppy cultivation declined in two major producing countries, Myanmar and Laos, the 2004 World Drug Report said. But Afghanistan has more than made up for the shortfall due to a production increase and a higher yield per acre than in Southeast Asia.
Afghanistan was responsible for three-quarters of the world's illegal opium supply and for a 5 percent increase in the world supply between 2002 and 2003, the report said.
"We expect even more production in Afghanistan next year," Sandeep Chawla of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said at a news conference in Vienna, Austria.
"The international community faces the problems ... of reducing production, providing alternative employment for farmers, and extending the rule of law ... to allow the national government to take control."
Overall, the spread of drug abuse was slowing in contrast to the significant growth in the past half-century, the report said. It said that 185 million people 3 percent of the global population or 4.7 percent of those ages 15-64 had used drugs at least once in the past 12 months.
Chawla said the fact that the "epidemic of drug abuse has been contained" in that age group was "the long-term success of regulation."
The report said marijuana and hashish are used by 150 million people at least once a year and warned that their use was spreading. The second-most popular abused substances were synthetic drugs amphetamine-type stimulants, with 38 million users.
Yet the number of users of legal drugs, like tobacco and alcohol, is much higher and much more damaging, said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. drug agency, who was in Moscow for a joint release of the report with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
As many as 30 percent of the world's population or 1.3 billion people are tobacco smokers and about 5 million die of tobacco-related causes each year.
By comparison, about 250,000 people die each year due to drug abuse.
"In many countries, drug control efforts increasingly limit the harm caused by drugs to a fraction of that caused by licit substances like tobacco and alcohol," Costa said, urging governments to push through prevention and treatment policies.
He urged governments and clerical institutions around the world to launch awareness campaigns preventing drug usage.
While in Moscow, Costa met with Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II to discuss holding such campaigns in Russia.
By Maria Danilova