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Brussels, 10 March 2009

Commission report: the world drugs problem, ten years on

Today the European Commission launched a report on the world's illicit drugs Markets since 1998. It shows that in the past decade drug policies across the world have developed, especially at national level, as efforts to help drug users have been stepped up and tougher policies adopted against drug traffickers. But what is the result of all this on the ground?

The study on which the report is based has found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries.

In other words, the world drugs problem seems to be more or less in the same state as in 1998: if anything, the situation has become more complex: prices for drugs in most Western countries have fallen since 1998 by as much as 10% to 30%, despite tougher sentencing of the sellers of e.g. cocaine and heroin in some of these markets. At the same time, there is no evidence that drugs have become more difficult to obtain. Cannabis use has become a "normal" part of young people's lives in many Western countries, up to 50% of people born after 1980 have at least tried it. The majority of them however do not continue to use it beyond early adulthood. The study has also found that specific policies against drug production can affect the areas where drugs are produced. For example, in the past decade a part of cocaine production shifted from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia.

The publication of the report coincides with the High Level Meeting that takes place in Vienna this week as part of the annual session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). Ministers from around the world will finalise a period of reflection on the assessment of the implementation of the Political Declaration on the world drug problem adopted by the 20th United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998. (A declaration aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction). This week, a new Political Declaration for the period 2009-2019 is scheduled to be adopted on the basis of that assessment.

Vice-President Jacques Barrot, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security declared: "We cannot limit ourselves in Vienna this week to quantifying objectives. We must now seek to tackle the world drug phenomenon, based on factual evidence".

The study seek to provide realistic estimates of the total size of the illicit drugs market in terms of annual revenues generated. The result shows that such overall estimates are very difficult to make, mostly due to a lack of reliable data on production, consumption and trade of drugs in much of the world. Nevertheless, the study has developed estimates, for instance for the markets for cannabis, cocaine and heroin for Western Europe, the US and Oceania. The best estimate (2005) for total revenue in these three regions for cannabis is almost € 70 Billion, which is about half the UNODC estimate of approximately € 125 Billion.

An important finding is the fact that harm reduction policies, still controversial in some countries, are gaining ground in a growing number of others countries which see them as an effective way of reducing drug-related disease, social disorder, and mortality.

The report also provides insights into the economic fundamentals of the global illicit drugs market, with estimates of production costs and value added throughout the trafficking chain from initial production to final retail sale. The distribution of income among those involved in the drug trade is analysed and reveals a surprisingly mundane picture with only a relatively small minority believed to be making significant amounts of money.

Finally, a key finding of the study is that it shows the weaknesses of the international system for the collection of data and information on the world's drug problem. Where the EU has invested large amounts of money in the further development of its drug monitoring activities through the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), such information mechanisms are not realistically within reach at world level.

The report of the study will be made available to the participants in the CND High Level Meeting and will be presented on Tuesday 10th of March at 2 pm, by Mr Lars-Erik Lundin ( EU Head of Delegation in Vienna) Carel Edwards (Head of the Anti Drugs Policy Unit, DG JLS), during a press conference in the EU Delegation in Vienna located in Argentinierstrasse 26/corner Taubstummengasse, Meeting Room Mezzanine, A-1040 Vienna (Metro U1, exit Taubstummengasse). Contact point: Anne-Marie Huber +43.1.51618329 or + 43.699.1966579.

The report can be found at:

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