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UN: Official Says Drugs From Afghanistan Threaten Central Asia, Eastern Europe

The United Nations is warning in its annual report on drugs that new heroin markets are emerging in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, fuelled by the rapid growth of opium production in Afghanistan. The report was launched to mark today's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the beginning of a year-long campaign called "Let's Talk About Drugs."

Prague, 26 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In a report published to coincide with the occasion of today's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the United Nation's anti-drug body is analyzing the evolution of major drug markets over the past five years.

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says in its study on global illicit drug trends that both positive and negative developments have been recorded since 1998.

The document looks at the main illegal markets for heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS).

The report says that some success has been achieved in the fight against the most dangerous drug, heroin -- mainly in Western Europe, where the number of drug-related deaths is declining.

But it highlights a new, worrisome trend in the use of opiates -- that is, poppy extracts such as heroin and morphine -- in Central Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe.

The report says that there are already more heroin users in those regions than in Western Europe, with significant potential for further growth.

Sandeep Chawla, chief of the UNODC's research section and the coordinator of the study, tells RFE/RL the trend is the result of the rapid rise in opium production in Afghanistan.

"In terms of sources of supply [and] heroin production, cultivation in Afghanistan is considerably up. That leads on to the markets linking Afghanistan to Europe, so abuse of heroin and opiates is increasing in Eastern Europe, in Russia, in Central Asia," Chawla says.

The report says that after a steep decline in 2001, world heroin production rebounded last year, jumping from 1,600 tons to some 4,500 tons. The growth was due to the resumption of large-scale poppy cultivation in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime.

The huge expansion of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has also raised the attention of the UN Security Council.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, last week told the Security Council that the problem is so serious it threatens the international community's reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

"The resurgence of opium poppy cultivation further erodes the security environment in Afghanistan and threatens reconstruction efforts. The message here is that we should do more, and we should do it better," Negroponte said.

Indeed, the report says Afghanistan accounted for 76 percent of the world's illicit opium production, compared to 18 percent in second-placed Myanmar.

Chawla of UNODC says the increasing amount of drugs coming from Afghanistan has led to the opening of a new, additional transit route to Europe.

"Trafficking seems to be increasing on the traditional trafficking route by which Afghan opiates came to Europe, through what was called the Balkan route -- through Iran, Turkey, and then into Europe," Chawla says. "But the new trafficking route, which is the old Silk Road route, going through Central Asia and either through Russia or then into Europe, that has been increasing very, very rapidly in the last few years."

The report says that what it calls a "large" increase in heroin abuse was recorded in 2001 in the Central Asian republics, the Russian Federation, Albania, the Baltic states, Belarus, Moldova, Poland and Romania.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia-Montenegro, and Ukraine are listed as having registered "some increase" in heroin abuse.

Chawla says rising drug use is also leading to increasing cases of HIV/AIDS: "There's more trafficking, there's more consumption, there's more intravenous drug abuse, which means that HIV/AIDS is spreading as well in Central Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe."

The report says ATS drugs -- synthetic drugs that include amphetamine, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy -- remain "public enemy number one" among illicit drugs.

Chawla says ATS drug use is increasing mainly in Western Europe, but Eastern Europe -- particularly Poland and the Czech Republic -- has also witnessed an upward trend in the production of such drugs.

The report says that, while Western Europe remains the top producer of amphetamines for now, the production of synthetic drugs could generally be shifting toward Eastern Europe.

Chawla says that cocaine use and cocaine trafficking remain limited in Central and Eastern Europe. But he notes that there has been an increase in cannabis consumption in the region, particularly in Poland, Belarus, and Moldova.

The launch of the report also marks the beginning of a year-long UNODC campaign that Chawla says is meant to encourage families to talk to their children about the dangers of drug use.

"The theme of the year[-long campaign] is 'Let's Talk About Drugs,' and the principal idea behind this is to raise awareness and to get people to start talking about drugs without exaggerating, without half-fact, half-fiction and more soberly and realistically. [The campaign is meant] to essentially put across the idea that it's only by talking openly about a phenomenon like this that we'll be able to solve it," Chawla says.

UNODC says thousands of people around the world have been mobilized through its network of field offices to help promote the "Let's Talk about Drugs" campaign.

A wide array of materials have been made available to promote the campaign, such as factsheets, brochures, posters, postcards, and a handbook for youth drug prevention programs and postcards.

In addition, UNODC's webpage offers free radio spots in many languages encouraging parents, grandparents, and other authority figures to talk to kids about drugs.