The world's $88 billion cocaine market is shifting towards Europe and is severely destabilising transit countries in West Africa even as total production falls, a United Nations report said recently.
The shift in demand has altered trafficking routes, with more cocaine flowing from Andean countries to Europe via Africa rather than to the United States, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.
"This is causing regional instability," the UNODC said in its wide-ranging annual World Drug Report.
"People snorting coke in Europe are killing the pristine forests of the Andean countries and corrupting governments in West Africa," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said.
European cocaine users doubled
The number of cocaine users in Europe has doubled in the last decade and the market is now worth $34 billion, almost as much as that in North America, the world's biggest consumer of the drug.
Europe's around 4 million cocaine users consumed about one quarter of global production in 2008.
World cocaine production has fallen 12% to 18% in the past three years and the North American market is shrinking thanks in part to police crackdowns in producer Columbia and transit corridor Mexico.
The world's other main "problem drug", heroin, is also seeing a decline in production and will continue to do so, the report said, citing expected declines in crop yields.
Iran and Turkey had done well to tackle the heroin flow out of Afghanistan, which produces most of the world's supply, but Russia, Central Asian and Balkan countries had performed poorly, the agency said.
While the two main substances are seeing declines, overall abuse has risen in developing countries, many of which lack the means to treat their addicts properly, the UNODC said.
More West Africans are taking cocaine as the drug passes through their countries on the way to the larger European market and more people in East Africa are taking heroin.
"We will not solve the world drugs problem by shifting consumption from the developed to the developing world," Costa said. - (Sylvia Westall/Reuters Health, June 2010)