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U.N.: Opium production soaring in Afghanistan

Afghanistan produced dramatically more opium in 2006, increasing its yield by roughly 49 percent from a year earlier and pushing global opium production to a new record high, a U.N. report said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Afghanistan produced dramatically more opium in 2006, increasing its yield by roughly 49 percent from a year earlier and pushing global opium production to a new record high, a U.N. report said Tuesday.

Opium production in Afghanistan increased from 4,100 metric tons in 2005 to 6,100 metric tons in 2006, according to the 2007 World Drug Report released by the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium is the main ingredient for heroin.

In 2006, Afghanistan accounted for 92 percent of global illicit opium production, up from 70 percent in 2000 and 52 percent a decade earlier. The higher yields in Afghanistan have brought global opium production to a new record high of 6,610 metric tons in 2006, a 43 percent increase over 2005.

The area under opium poppy cultivation in the country also expanded, from 104,000 hectares (257,000 acres) in 2005, to 165,000 hectares (407,715 acres) in 2006 — an increase of about 59 percent.

“This is the largest area under opium poppy cultivation ever recorded in Afghanistan,” the report said, noting that 62 percent of the cultivation was concentrated in the country’s southern region.

Helmand province is biggest supplier
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. drug office, warned that Afghanistan’s insurgency-plagued Helmand province was becoming the world’s biggest drug supplier, with illicit cultivation there larger than in the rest of the country put together.

“Effective surgery on Helmand’s drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bringing security to the region,” Costa said in a statement.

Early indications suggest Afghanistan could see a further increase in opium production in 2007, the report said.

“Developments in Afghanistan will continue to determine the levels of global opium production,” the report said.

An increase in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation in 2006 offset the sixth straight year of decline in opium cultivation in Southeast Asia.

Since 1998, Southeast Asia’s share of world opium poppy cultivation has fallen from 67 percent to just 12 percent in 2006, much of this due to large declines in cultivation in Myanmar, the report said. Based on 2006 figures, Myanmar now represents just 11 percent of the world opium poppy cultivation.

‘The runaway train of drug addiction’
The annual report also found that the production, trafficking and consumption of other illicit drugs have largely stabilized globally and that the estimated level of global drug use has remained more or less unchanged for the third year in a row.

Approximately 200 million people — or 5 percent of the world’s population aged between 15 and 64 — used drugs at least once in the previous 12 months, it said. Of those, an estimated 25 million—or 0.6 percent of the global population—were so-called problem drug users, or individuals who are heavily drug dependent. That estimate also remained unchanged.

“Recent data show that the runaway train of drug addiction has slowed down,” Costa said.

Cannabis continues to account for the vast majority of illegal drug use and is consumed by some 160 million people, the report said, but noted that the most recent global use estimates have decreased slightly due to ongoing declines in North America and—for the first time—some declines in the largest cannabis markets of Western Europe.

“Although it is too early to speak of general decline, signs of a stabilization of cannabis use at the global level are apparent,” the report said, noting that growth in cannabis use occurred in Africa, parts of South America and Asia, as well as parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

Amphetamine-type stimulants—including ecstasy—remain the second-most widely consumed group of substances. Over the 2005-2006 period, some 25 million people are estimated to have used amphetamines at least once in the previous 12 months, about the same as a year earlier.

‘This threat needs to be addressed quickly’
While global cocaine production is estimated to have remained basically unchanged in 2006 as compared to one or two years earlier, estimates for the production of both cannabis herb and cannabis resin showed a decline for the year 2005, the report said.

While the area under coca cultivation in the Andean region declined by 29 percent when compared to the year 2000, the progress did not translate into a decline of global cocaine production due to improved yields and production techniques.

Countries reported 1.5 million drug seizure cases to the U.N. drug office for the year 2005, 21 percent more than a year earlier, the report said.

But traffickers are using new routes.

Africa, for example, is increasingly being exploited by drug traffickers, the report said.

“This threat needs to be addressed quickly to stamp out organized crime, money laundering and corruption and to prevent the spread of drug use that could cause havoc across a continent already plagued by many other tragedies,” Costa said.