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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

UN Report: Global Drug Use Stable, But Opium Production Rising


The number of acres devoted to opium poppy cultivation has risen for the third year in a row.

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Drugs seized Afghanistan

A pile of seized drugs incinerated in Pakistan to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Photo via Shutterstock.

Worldwide illegal opium production is at a record high, according to the annual UN World Drug Report, presented in Vienna today. The greatest surge was in Afghanistan, the world’s leading opium producer, where poppy fields expanded by 36% in the past year. Worldwide, there are now 741,000 acres dedicated to opium poppy cultivation—a number that has risen for the third year in a row.

But global drug use appears to have remained stable in the past year, according to the report. An estimated 162 – 324 million people used an illegal drug at least once in 2012, similar to the previous year. The number of drug-related deaths in the last year was estimated between 95,500 and 225,900—a decrease since 2011, though in the US the number has risen (largely due to prescription painkiller and heroin overdoses).

The UN presents the report annually on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. But this year, notions of how to “fight drugs” are shifting. Given the massive costs of ineffectively attempting to thwart the production and use of drugs, more governments are beginning to examine prohibition with a more critical eye. In The Guardian this week, former British ambassador to Afghanistan William Patey makes a strong argument for legalizing the heroin trade. “If we cannot deal effectively with supply, then the only alternative would seem to be to try to limit the demand for illicit drugs by making a supply of them available from a legally regulated market,” he writes.