U.N. drug czar seeks help to stem narcotics flow

VIENNA Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:40pm GMT

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VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called on Monday for more money and effort to stem a flow of illicit narcotics that earns druglords $320 billion (196 billion pounds) a year.

With global production of opium up almost 80 percent between 1998 and 2009 and the market for cocaine holding up, Russia's Yury Fedotov said the world needed a more vigorous approach to reducing the supply, demand and trafficking of drugs.

He told the annual U.N. meeting of narcotics policymakers an estimated 150 million to 250 million adults use illicit drugs every year. He also bemoaned the growing abuse of drugs by young children, especially in developing countries, and said abuse of prescription drugs was on the rise in developed countries.

But he also cited progress in some areas. Joint operations by Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have seized hundreds of kilograms of heroin, opium, morphine and hashish and arrested traffickers.

UNODC was also inserting drug-control programmes into U.N. peace missions, for example in western Africa, which he said was a hub for cocaine trafficking to Europe from Latin America.

But spending more could accomplish more, officials said.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Naijar wanted more funds and technical assistance to inspect border areas.

Iran, which borders opium hub Afghanistan, has spent $800 million to shut its eastern frontier to the drug trade, he said.

"We have sent hundreds of millions of dollars....(while) the volume of the assistance extended is very insignificant. It is more like a symbolic action," he told reporters.

At a time of austerity in many countries, though, it was unclear who had the resources to chip in more funding.

With a clampdown on spending in full swing in Washington, "We don't really know where our budget is headed," Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, told Reuters at the meeting.

He said the way forward was to leverage what have been separate strands for treatment, prevention and criminal justice.

(Editing by Patrick Graham)

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