Authorities charged with reigning in the international drug trade are having a difficult time, as it spreads to new markets and quickly evolves, an expert tells CNBC.
“The drug trade is becoming truly more global,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow at the Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution. “New countries have emerged as crucial new demand places. For example Brazil and Argentina arguably now have per capita drug consumption on a par with the U.S.”
Russia is experiencing a “major heroin epidemic,” and China’s drug consumption is robust, she says. West and East Africa are entry points to the European drug market and beyond, she said. These trends make it increasingly difficult to coordinate an international drug policy, she adds.
According to the United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), demand for drugs worldwide has not been substantially reduced and around 200,000 people continue to die every single year due to illicit drugs. The UNDOC and the European crime-fighting agency Europol state the annual global drugs trade is worth around $435 billion a year, including $84 billion for the cocaine trade.
In June, the UNDOC released a report that concluded the increasing popularity of designer drugs is an alarming public health problem. The number of new synthetic drugs rose by more than 50 percent in less than three years, the report states.
Felbab-Brown says drug markets are very flexible, and can easily regroup if authorities interrupt their business. She adds there is little consensus on how to deal with the drug supply. She points to Latin America, where countries such as Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico are considering relaxing their approach to illegal drugs.
“I expect we’re going to see a further breaking of the consensus over drugs with more governments shifting direction to the stance taken by some Latin American governments to decriminalize drug use,” said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. “Other governments, however, such as Russia and China, will continue with their hard-line, zero-tolerance policies.”