UN report says cocaine market booming as meth trafficking spreads

Globally, more than 296 million people used drugs in 2021, an increase of 23 percent since 2011, the UN report says.

Cocaine demand and supply are booming worldwide and methamphetamine trafficking is expanding beyond established markets, including in Afghanistan where the drug is now being produced, says a United Nations report.

The number of people taking drugs rose by 23 percent to 296 million in 2021 – the most recent year for which data is available – from 240 million in 2011, according to the annual World Drug Report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) late on Sunday.

The UNODC said only half the increase can be attributed to the world’s population growth during the period.

Meanwhile, the number of people who suffer from drug use disorders has skyrocketed to 39.5 million, a 45 percent increase over 10 years. Only one in five people received treatment in 2021, the UN report said.

Cocaine seizures have, however, grown faster than production, containing the total supply to some extent, the report said. The upper band of the estimated total supply was higher in the mid-2000s than now.

“The world is currently experiencing a prolonged surge in both supply and demand of cocaine, which is now being felt across the globe and is likely to spur the development of new markets beyond the traditional confines,” the UN report said.“Although the global cocaine market continues to be concentrated in the Americas and in Western and Central Europe [with very high prevalence also in Australia], in relative terms it appears that the fastest growth, albeit building on very low initial levels, is occurring in developing markets found in Africa, Asia and South-Eastern Europe,” it said.

While almost 90 percent of methamphetamine seized worldwide was in two regions – East and Southeast Asia and North America – seizure data suggest those markets have stabilised at a high level yet trafficking has increased elsewhere, such as the Middle East and West Africa, the report said.

It added that reports and seizures involving methamphetamine produced in Afghanistan suggested the drug economy was changing in that country, where 80 percent of the world’s illicit opium poppy, which is used to make heroin, is produced.

“Questions remain regarding the linkages between illegal manufacture of heroin and of methamphetamine [in Afghanistan] and whether the two markets will develop in parallel or whether one will substitute the other,” it added.

In 2021 alone, the majority of about 90,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in North America involved the synthetic opioid drug, the report said.Moreover, “there are signs” that the war in Ukraine “could trigger an expansion of the manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, given the existing know-how and the large markets … developing in the region”, it said.