Guest Column: Antonio Maria Costa
AROUND the world, in order to enhance performance, people are popping pills and powder known as amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). From ravers at all-night discos to assembly-line workers or long-haul truckers, more than 30 million people use amphetamine, methamphetamine (meth), or Ecstasy at least once a year – more than the combined number of those who take cocaine and heroin. The global market is estimated at $65 billion.
Part of the attraction of these synthetic drugs is that they are readily available, affordable and convenient to use (no need to shoot up, snort, or smoke). Amphetamines speed up the way the body works: users experience increased confidence, sociability and energy. But what goes up must come down. People who become dependent on "uppers" may suffer paranoia, kidney failure and internal bleeding, and even serious mental health problems, brain damage, or heart attack.
After substantial increases in the 1990s – when meth was considered public enemy number one in the United States – the use of synthetic drugs has stabilised in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, albeit at high levels.
Evidence suggests that the problem is shifting to new markets in east and south-east Asia, and the near and Middle East. Asia, with its huge population and increasing affluence, is driving demand. In 2006, almost half of Asian countries reported an increase in meth use. This year, more than half of China's provinces had serious ATS-related problems.
The upsurge is not limited to Asia. Something strange is going on in Saudi Arabia. Last year, the kingdom seized almost 14 tonnes of amphetamine, mostly in the form known as Captagon (probably manufactured in south-east Europe). That's a quarter of all amphetamines seized in the world. In South Africa, the number of seized meth laboratories has consistently gone up for the past five years, while domestic consumption has increased.
For societies in transition or going through rapid modernisation, synthetic drugs seem to be a by-product of hyperactive growth. The shift is also due to a strong supply push from increasingly aggressive criminal groups with tentacles around the world.
A decade ago, synthetic drugs were a do-it-yourself cottage industry. The ingredients for meth, for example, are readily available, recipes are easy to obtain and batches of the drug can be cooked up in a kitchen. But in the past few years, the production of ATS has become a big global business. Organised crime is taking over all aspects of this illicit trade, from smuggling precursor chemicals to manufacturing and trafficking the drugs. Increasingly sophisticated labs are being discovered in, for example, Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2007 alone, 75 ATS labs were seized in China.
Before it is too late, countries in the developing world need to get their heads out of the sand. Many are in denial about the problem. The most vulnerable are ill-equipped to fight the pandemic through information gathering, regulatory frameworks, law enforcement, forensics, or health care.
Stabilisation of the problem in the developed world shows that containment is possible. But unless more attention and resources are devoted to prevention, treatment and law enforcement in youthful and increasingly affluent societies in the developing world, these countries may soon be facing a similar epidemic of drug abuse.
• Antonio Maria Costa is executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west