A decade-long expansion of the world's developing economies has come with an unwanted side effect: rising consumption of cocaine and other illegal drugs in some of the world's poorest regions, a United Nations drug report showed.
Not too long ago, poor areas such as in South America mainly produced drugs for use in rich markets like the US. But that is changing. New data show that consumption of illegal drugs is rising in the emerging world even as their use remains unchanged, or even declines, in some rich countries.
"The traditional distinction between drug-producing countries in the poorer south and consuming countries in the more affluent north is thus becoming increasingly blurred," the UN report released Tuesday said. "As with many other social phenomena, globalization has been accelerating the diffusion and a certain homogenization of the contemporary drug problem."
The rise of illegal drug consumption in the emerging world presents an unexpected development challenge for parts of the globe that have largely enjoyed record economic growth and poverty reduction. Local illegal drug markets can fuel organized crime. Rising consumption can stress health systems. In Peru, separate fires at three crowded and under-regulated rehabilitation centers in Lima have killed dozens this year.
To be sure, the US is still by far the world's biggest market for illicit drugs. And conclusions about gains in the emerging world are limited by local data collection. For example, there is no recent information available on cocaine use in many Asian countries, including China and India, the UN said. But broadly, the trend holds across a range of drugs, the data show.
Cocaine use declined 40 percent in the US from 1999 to 2009, while it rose in South America and Africa, as well as Western Europe, in the past decade. Western Europe's high heroin rates have started to stabilize, while rates are increasing in the poorer nations it is smuggled through. Ecstasy use has spread from North America and Europe to other regions such as Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean.
Today, there are about twice the number of drug users outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- a global club of rich nations -- than inside it, the study shows.