- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 26 (UPI) — The global narcotics watchdog agency warned Wednesday the problem of illicit drugs appears to show no sign of abating and called on governments of rich and poor nations to focus on effective control policies to stem the problem.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board said expenditures on cocaine and heroin in the United States in 2000 — the latest year for figures — was estimated at $36 billion and $12 billion, respectively. Costs related to illicit drugs amounted to some $161 billion, including $110 billion for loss of productivity and $15 billion for health care.

Similarly, western Europe spends around $20 billion per year for heroin and $12 billion for cocaine, said the INCB report. The INCB, established in 1968, describes itself as an independent and quasi-judicial control organ for the implementation of the U.N. drug conventions.

Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, director of mental health and substance dependence at the World Health Organization said in telephone interview that heroin and cocaine are not only "very addictive" but have a strong effect on the brain.

"Dependence on heroin and cocaine is very serious and develops quite quickly," he said, "especially if inhaled or taken intravenously." Heroin and cocaine abuse account for about 200,000 deaths each year world-wide, according to WHO estimates.

The illicit drug trade is also a cause of destabilization and conflict in countries where it accounts for a significant proportion of the national economy, said the INCB board.

For example in Afghanistan, which in 2002 regained its position as the world's largest producer of illicit opium, production and trafficking is estimated to account for 10-15 percent of the country's gross domestic product. In contrast, in the arguably more notorious drug producer Colombia, the figure stands between 2-3 percent of GNP, similar to countries near the "Golden Triangle" region such as Laos.

The report concludes there continues to be illicit manufacture in both rich and poor nations of synthetic drugs such as the stimulant ecstasy, for which recent studies indicate may cause irreversible brain impact and possibly damage.

Abuse of ecstasy, especially popular at some rave parties, in the United States "continues to increase among teenagers, although the rate of increase is beginning to decline," it said.

Americans in the survey group reporting they have ever tried ecstasy "rose from 6.5 million in 2000 to 8.1 million, an increase of 24 percent," said the 13-member board study.

Ecstasy abuse is also high in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands; Eastern Europe, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey have problems as well, it said.

However, in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, it said, stimulants such as amphetamines "are the main problem drugs."

The patterns of life where many people have to work many hours per day without weekend breaks may be the reason for the amphetamines epidemic in Asia, Poznyak noted. With regard to heroin and cocaine abuse, the WHO expert said, "Expectancy of life is very short in heroin-injecting drug users," while for cocaine the major cause of death is heart attacks that can even "occur among young people."

Besides death through overdose, its estimated that between 20-30 percent of injecting heroin abusers contract HIV/AIDS, Poznyak said.

An even higher amount of such users end up with hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to chronic liver disease and even death.

The report also outlined heroin and cocaine abuse is a problem in many other countries and regions including Australia and poor nations such as Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, China ,Vietnam, Russia and other former Soviet Union countries.

Abuse of the hallucinogen LSD was a problem in Israel, it said.

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