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Lack of data from Africa and Asia hampers study of illicit drugs

Posted on behalf of Cosmas Butunyi.

Are Africa and Asia silently driving demand for opium, raising prices for producers, despite the traditional markets stagnating?

The absence of sufficient data on opium and other drugs in these two regions means that for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), this remains a mystery.

In the World Drug Report 2012, UNODC admits it can’t explain the rising price of opium, but links it to, among other factors, underestimates of global heroin consumption, especially in Asian countries that are major markets and those in Africa that are possible emerging markets.

“The lack of data is particularly acute in Africa and parts of Asia, where data on the prevalence of illicit drug use and trends remain vague at best,” states the report, which estimates that one in 20 people across the world used an illicit drug at least once in 2010, resulting in up to 253,000 deaths during the year.

The UNODC says the lack of proper data makes it difficult to analyse and present a complete image of the ever-evolving illicit drug market.

The executive director of UNODC, Yuri Fedatov, notes that there are ‘growing signs’ of cocaine use in regions such as West and Central Africa that have always acted as conduits of illicit drugs to the final markets. For heroin, the report indicates that while seizures of the drug in traditional trafficking routes running from Afghanistan to Western and Central Europe via South-Eastern Europe are declining, there are increasing numbers in coastal regions of Africa and countries in South-East Asia.

“Whether this implies that traffickers are seeking alternative routes or that heroin use is on the increase in those places, the lack of available data makes it impossible to draw definitive conclusions,” he adds.

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