Jun 28, 2011

Whack-a-mole Drug War: The Top Three Trends in the UNDOC World Drug Report

A good summary of key issues in the UN annual Drug Report, from "InSight - Organized Crime in the Americas"

The Top Three Trends in the UNDOC World Drug Report: "The annual United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on the global drug trade paints a picture of success in Colombia. But it's clear the real winners remain the transnational drug gangs, who are evolving fast in response to changing markets. ...

The rise of such designer drugs is a reminder that, like the market for any other in-demand product, the narcotics market is highly flexible and adaptable. This flexibility can also be seen in the way that drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) are operating. DTOs are becoming more similar to multinational corporations, with an emphasis on networking rather than top-down decision making. This kind of flexibility allows for loosely-linked cells to handle the production, transport and delivery of drugs, criss-crossing three or four continents at a time. ...

In terms of U.S. policy, the growing prevalence of "non-traditional" drugs also raises the question of how substances are identified as posing the greatest threat to national health issues. As the UNODC report notes, overdoses on prescription drugs -- like oxycodone, percocet, vicodin and so on -- are growing more common than overdoses on cocaine or heroin. The rise in popularity for these legal "highs" may also explain, in part, the apparent shift in the U.S. away from cocaine.

The limitations of the UNODC reports are still clear

The UN relies on satellite imagery to collect much of its data on coca cultivation. But coca fields are becoming smaller and smaller, in part due to pressure from eradication efforts. The satellites used in detection efforts work best for fields no smaller than 0.25 hectares. Especially in Colombia, coca is being increasingly grown among legal crops, or in plots smaller than a hectare. Coca bushes can also be planted several times a year, meaning that farmers can move back on land that they had previously abandoned.

This means that many of the annual statistics supplied by the UNODC, especially regarding coca and cocaine estimates, must be considered rough and low-end estimates."

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