Because the use of designer drugs and other 'legal highs' proliferates at an unprecedented rate, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has made them the focus of their 2013 global awareness campaign. In addition, UNODC seeks to raise awareness of drug trafficking. "All over the world, drugs threaten the health and welfare of youth and children, families and communities," said UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. "And the billions of dollars generated by the drugs trade feed corruption, enhance the power of criminal networks and create fear and instability."

Increasing violence and homocide rates, the trafficking of drugs and precursor agents necessary to the production of methamphetamine and other illicit substances poses a health risk to many. "The drug trade and organized crime continue to fuel economic and political instability around the world," said UNODC's Executive Director Yury Fedotov.


In 1987, the General Assembly of the UN decided to observe June 26 as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as a way to express its determination to achieve its goal of an international society free of drug abuse. To implement international drug control conventions, the UN created the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) as an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body. Although newly created in 1968, predecessors to the INCB formed under various drug control treaties go back to the time of the League of Nations. Established in accordance with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, the INCB is charged with two main responsibilities. First, it seeks to limit the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. Second, INCB combats drug trafficking through international cooperation to deter and discourage drug traffickers.

In fulfillment of its duties, the INCB annually files a report to update the UN as to the international trafficking situation. The following summaries have been taken more or less directly from the 2012 report.


The social and political changes in North Africa that began in 2011 within Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and were ongoing into 2012 have reportedly caused 'deficiencies in the drug law enforcement capabilities of these countries,' according to the INCB. Political upheaval also took place in Guinea-Bissau and Mali in early 2012; although transitional governments have been installed, the situation remains unstable. Because of this, both countries have become a locus for international drug traffickers with Guinea-Bissau serving as a hub for cocaine trafficking in the subregion and Mali, a transit country for cocaine and cannabis resin.

In recent years, West Africa has emerged as a transit area for the trafficking of narcotics, especially cocaine, from South America to the lucrative European market. Cocaine trafficking in the subregion is estimated to generate $900 million in profit annually for criminal networks. There are an estimated 1.5 million cocaine abusers in West and Central Africa. Furthermore, trafficking in heroin and methamphetamine has increased in West Africa. Afghan heroin is trafficked through Pakistan and the Middle East into East and West Africa, and methamphetamine is manufactured in growing quantities across West Africa, mainly in Ghana and Nigeria. While cannabis remains the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused drug in Africa, new threats have emerged, in particular, the illicit manufacture, trafficking and abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants. There is growing evidence to suggest that drug trafficking networks are increasingly exploiting East and West Africa for trafficking amphetamine-type stimulants, particularly methamphetamine, to other parts of the world.

Central America and the Carribbean

The region of Central America and the Caribbean continues to be used as a major transit area for South American cocaine heading to the North American market. The increasing power of drug gangs has helped to raise corruption and homicide rates in the region, especially in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which are particularly affected by significant levels of drug-related violence. Areas exposed to intense drug trafficking in Central America show higher homicide rates.

UNODC estimates that about 280 tons of South American cocaine (purity-adjusted) are destined for North America. Much of it travels by way of Central America and the Caribbean, where cocaine use is also increasing. Recently, cocaine shipments destined for countries in Central America, with further deliveries for Mexico and the U.S. have increased.

In 2011 and 2012, trafficking in precursor chemicals increased in countries in Central America, in particular non-scheduled chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua reported incidents in 2011 and 2012 involving significant seizures of esters of phenylacetic acid and methylamine. Illicit laboratories have also been reported in the region. Seizures of chemical precursors, raw material (coca paste) and laboratories in Guatemala and Honduras indicate the likely existence of both cocaine- and heroin-refining facilities. Furthermore, the abuse of MDMA ('ecstasy'), generally imported from Europe, has been spreading in Central America and the Caribbean since the period 2010-2011.

North America

North America remains the biggest illicit drug market in the world as well as the region reporting the highest drug-related mortality rate. Approximately one in every 20 deaths among persons aged 15-64 in North America is related to drug abuse. That figure takes into account overdose deaths and HIV/AIDS acquired through shared use of contaminated drug paraphernalia, as well as trauma-related deaths, including motor vehicle accidents caused by driving under the influence of drugs.

Annual prevalence of cocaine use fell in North America from 2.4 per cent of the population aged 15-64 in 2006 to 1.5 per cent in 2011, equivalent to a decrease of some 38 per cent over that five-year period. Prescription drug abuse in North America continues to represent a major threat to public health and remains one of the biggest challenges to the drug control efforts being deployed by governments in the region. Overdose deaths caused by the abuse of prescription opioids are reported to have quadrupled in the U.S. since 1999. According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths from opioid drug overdoses in the country since 2003 exceeded those attributable to cocaine and heroin combined.

Drug-related data released in 2012 confirmed significant increases in per capita sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone between 2000 and 2010 in several states. The increases in oxycodone sales were on the order of 565 per cent in Florida, 519 per cent in New York, 515 per cent in Tennessee and 439 per cent in Delaware, while hydrocodone sales increased by 322 per cent in South Dakota and 291 per cent in South Carolina and Tennessee.

South America

The region of South America suffers from the illicit cultivation of coca bush, opium poppy and cannabis plant, as well as the manufacture and production of and trafficking in the drugs stemming from that cultivation. There is significant and growing abuse of these plant-based drugs among the region's population, as well as growing use of synthetic drugs of abuse, both those manufactured illicitly and those diverted from licit channels. In 2010, UNODC estimated that the total global potential manufacture of cocaine ranged from 788 to 1,060 tons, indicating a decline in cocaine manufacture since the period 2005-2007.

In August 2012, the Government of Uruguay presented to its national congress a proposed law to legalize the production and sale of cannabis in the country. According to the proposed law, the Government would assume control and regulation over the activities of importing, producing, acquiring title to, storing, selling and distributing cannabis herb and its derivatives. If adopted, the law could be in contravention of the international drug control conventions to which Uruguay is a party.

The abuse of cocaine in the Americas is no longer confined to North America and a few countries in the Southern Cone, but has spread across Latin America and the Caribbean. According to a CICAD report in the period 2002-2009 about 27 per cent of cocaine abusers in the hemisphere were found in South America.

East and Southeast Asia

In 2011, East and South-East Asia continued to be the region with the second largest total area under illicit opium poppy cultivation, accounting for over 20 per cent of illicit opium poppy cultivation worldwide. Increased illicit opium poppy cultivation was reported by the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Myanmar for six consecutive years, beginning in 2007. From 2011 to 2012, the total estimated area under cultivation in the two countries increased by approximately 66 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, indicating potential growth in opium production.

East and South-East Asia continued to be a manufacturing hub and a growing illicit market for amphetamine-type stimulants, in particular methamphetamine. Evidence has shown that the illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants has expanded from traditional manufacturing countries such as China and Myanmar to other countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, substances used in the illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants, continued to be trafficked in large quantities in the region.

Trafficking in and abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations containing internationally controlled substances are serious problems in East and South-East Asia.

South Asia

South Asia continues to face diversion of and trafficking in pharmaceutical preparations containing internationally controlled substances and a serious problem of abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations. Pharmacies represent one of the key points at which diversion occurs. Drug abusers are often able, in all countries of the region, to obtain prescription pharmaceutical preparations containing internationally controlled substances without a prescription. In some cases, diversion also occurs from manufacturers. As well as being sold within the region, the diverted pharmaceuticals are also trafficked on to other countries, in significant part through illegal Internet pharmacies.

In response to the threat posed to the region by the abuse of and trafficking in pharmaceutical preparations and other drugs, Governments in South Asia are renewing their efforts and are undertaking major new initiatives to tackle the problem.

Source: Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2012, The International Narcotics Control Board Publications, 2013.