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New study maps “plant food”, “bath salts”, drug routes

Photo: Flickr / Canada in Afghanistan / 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4 March 2014 - Unprecedented numbers and varieties of new psychoactive substances (NPS), only one in six problem drug users worldwide receiving needed treatment – these, among others, are issues highlighted in the new annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board.

The so called “legal highs”, often sold as “bath salts”, or “plant food”, are a major challenge not only in Europe but increasingly in other regions and developing countries.

While those substances are primarily being transported from Asia, for processing, packaging and distribution in Europe, there are indications of limited manufacture in Europe as well. The Balkan route remains the most commonly used route for drug trafficking in the subregion although the amount of heroin trafficked declined in the past year. Cocaine trafficking routes to Europe are diversified, with some trafficking through the Baltic countries or along the Balkan route, but lately the trafficking through ports of the Black Sea has been increasing.

Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs also emerges as an increasing problem, as does .

“There is an erroneous perception that prescription drugs are less susceptible to abuse than ‘illicit’ drugs.” Households are the main source of prescription drugs that are no longer needed or used for medical purposes, then diverted for abuse.

Surveys show that a significant percentage of individuals abusing prescription drugs for the first time obtained the drug from a friend or family member who had acquired them legally. Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing threat to public health in North America, which is the region with the highest drug-related mortality in the world.

Drug routes and related violence

Afghanistan has a deteriorating drug problem, remaining the centre of illicit manufacture of heroin and its importance as a source of cannabis resin for the world markets is growing. This situation seriously endangers the aims of the international drug control treaties, the INCB Report says.

There is also an overall increase in the trafficking of opiates through Africa. The 10-fold increase in seizures of heroin in East Africa makes this sub region possibly the largest hub in Africa for heroin trafficked onward to the European markets.

Central America and the Caribbean continue to be affected by drug trafficking and high levels of drug-related violence, while large-scale illicit methamphetamine manufacture is a cause for serious concern. The region remains a significant transit route for cocaine to North America and Europe; it is estimated that over 90 per cent of all cocaine trafficked to the United States is of Colombian origin and transits Mexico and the Central American corridor.

Every dollar spent on prevention can save up to ten dollars

Only one in six problem drug users worldwide – some 4.5 million people – receives the treatment he or she needs, at a global cost of about US$35 billion per year.

Heroin, cannabis and cocaine are the drugs most frequently used by people entering treatment worldwide. The President of INCB, Raymond Yans, noted that investment in prevention and treatment is a wise “investment choice” as it can lead to significant savings in health-care and crime-related costs and alleviate the suffering of drug-dependent persons and their families.

Every dollar spent on prevention can save Governments up to ten dollars in later costs. However, the INCB Report reveals significant regional disparities in treatment provision: in Africa, only one in 18 problem drug users receives treatment, in Latin America, the Caribbean and South-Eastern Europe, one in 11 problem drug users is treated, and in Northern America one in 3.


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