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UN Highlights Afghan Drugs Risk

Afghan opium fields 2 March 2005 -- The UN narcotics watchdog is warning that Afghanistan is at risk of turning into a "narcotics state."

The UN International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual report, says the production of opium poppies used in the production of heroin rose in Afghanistan in 2004 to the highest level since the fall of the Taliban regime.

The report says the illegal drug industry in Afghanistan has become so widespread that it has become a "severe" threat to the country's democracy and economic development.

UN officials have called for swift response to the problem by the international community.

The report by the Vienna-based organization notes that a large percentage of the opium poppies harvested in Afghanistan last year passed through countries in the region toward Russia and countries in Europe.

The report says that while heroin use was stable or declining in most of Western Europe, it continued to increase in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

It says Russia has become the biggest heroin market in Europe, with more than 1 million heroin users.

The report also issued a warning about Iraq, saying that drugs traffickers could flourish there amid an environment of political instability, terrorism, organized crime, and corruption.

The report says the United States remains the world's biggest market for illicit drugs.