STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The number of people around the world taking drugs such as cocaine, heroin and cannabis rose last year by about 15 million to 200 million, the United Nations annual 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 is a monster," Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said in the report, released in the Swedish capital.
Cannabis was the most widely used drug, being taken by 160 million people, but the report said the main problem drugs continued to be opiates, heroin and then cocaine, as these were the ones for which people asked for treatment.
The outlook for the market for such drugs would be determined by conditions in major producer Afghanistan.
It said presidential elections there in 2004 meant the picture was slightly more positive, as the government was strengthening its control over the economy.
The area under poppy cultivation had also gone down in 2005 compared with 2004. But question marks remained.
"It is, however, not yet certain whether the reduction of the land under opium poppy cultivation would be sufficient to offset a possibly higher yield than observed in 2004," it said.
The report said opium production in South-East Asia was 78 percent lower than in 1996.
"If the declines witnessed over the last few years are sustained, it would not be too far outside the realm of possibility that South-East Asia could become virtually free of illicit cultivation over the next few years." it said.
However, South American cocaine output did not fall and the area 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 coca production," it said.
The international community needed to continue to support programs to allow farmers to grow alternative crops, it said.