Back in 2000 with the Taliban firmly in control of Afghanistan, that country’s production of opium poppies fell dramatically to around 100 metric tons. This week the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in its World Drug Report that, five years after the invasion by the West to restore democracy, opium production has reached a record high.

According to the executive director of that UN agency, Antonio Maria Costa, opium production in Afghanistan remains a major problem: cultivation increased dramatically in 2006, offsetting remarkable successes in eliminating other sources of opium supply, especially in South-East Asia. “In Afghanistan, opium is a security issue, more than a drug issue,” said the UN’s drugs chief in a statement on releasing the report.

“The Helmand province, severely threatened by insurgency, is becoming the world’s biggest drug supplier, with illicit cultivation larger than in the rest of the country put together and even than entire nations such as Myanmar (Burma) or even Colombia,” he added. “Effective surgery on Helmand’s drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bringing security to the region.”

On other aspects of the war on drugs the body was more optimistic. The report suggests that global markets for illicit drugs remained largely stable in 2005-06. The report says that cocaine trafficking has become less organised since the days of the Medellin and Cali cartels while the heroin trade in Afghanistan, is growing increasingly and is getting more organised.

Australia gets a mention because “the Oceania region, notably Australia and New Zealand, continue to be important producers and consumers of methamphetamine, but there are no indications that these drugs are exported from there”.

Global demand for amphetamines (methamphetamine and amphetamine), which increased strongly in most parts of the world in the 1990s, is now showing signs of overall stabilisation. At close to 25 million people, the global amphetamines consumer market is larger than the markets for cocaine or heroin. Between 15-16 million of these users are thought to consume methamphetamine. Following the expansion of the consumer market throughout the 1990s, there have been consistent signs of slow-down and stabilisation over the last few years, particularly in North America.