Global use of cocaine, heroine and cannabis fell last year while production of stimulants rose, the UN drugs chief said Wednesday as he presented the United Nations' annual report on drugs.
''The embedded story in this report is that the markets for the three main drugs -- cocaine, heroin and cannabis -- are on a downward trend,'' UN Office on Drugs and Crime executive director Antonio Maria Costa told reporters in Washington.
But production of man-made amphetamine-type stimulants -- including methamphetamines and ecstasy, which is harder to track -- was up, the report showed.
''What was once a cottage industry has become big business,'' it noted, citing industrial-sized laboratories in southeast Asia, especially in the Greater Mekong region.
Global drug watchdogs cannot spot cultivation sites of amphetamines by satellite, as they can of cannabis, heroin or cocaine, because the synthetic drugs that can be produced anywhere from a tiny garage to a sprawling factory, said Costa.
''But we have evidence concerning consumption as well as access to medical treatment for the consequences of heavy amphetamine use,'' he said.
Saudi Arabia and Brazil have seen significant spikes in amphetamine use, said Costa.
Meanwhile, consumption of cannabis, the most widely used drug in the world, dropped in developed countries, especially among young people. However the psychoactive component in marijuana, THC, has almost doubled in 10 years, the 305-page report said.
Production of opiates fell by 16 percent and shifted its epicenter from Burma to Afghanistan, Costa told reporters.
On the sidelines of the news conference, Costa said the international effort to combat production of opiates is concentrating on ''creating conditions where prices are so low that farmers will turn to alternative crops.''
Afghanistan has helped in that quest by producing about twice as much opium as there is demand around the world, forcing prices to decline significantly, Costa said.
Global production of cocaine was down by eight percent last year, seizures were sharply up, and consumption in the United States -- where cocaine is ''the drug of choice,'' according to Costa -- was also down.
''Law enforcement has done wonders regarding cocaine... seizing not quite half but 42 percent of total production last year,'' said Costa.
''In the United States, you see purity going down to less than 50 percent and prices going up,'' both indicative of a shrinking market, said Costa.
Another sign that US cocaine use is on the wane was the ''very significant decline in positive workforce tests for cocaine,'' he said.
Even in Spain, Britain and Italy, where Costa said cocaine use had grown ''like a runaway train'' since 2000, usage of the drug was stabilizing.
There are between 20-24 million serious drug users around the world, or less than one percent of the world's population, and around 200,000 people die annually of drug-related causes, Costa said.
Both statistics are far below the third of the world population who use tobacco, the five million who die yearly of tobacco-related causes and nearly two million who die because of alcohol, and are ''evidence that controls on drugs have contained the problem, at least in terms of casualties,'' said Costa, rejecting calls to legalize narcotics.
''While changes are needed, they should be in favor of different means to protect society against drugs rather than by pursuing the goal of abandoning protection,'' he said in a preface to the report.
In some countries, five times as many people were jailed for using drugs as for trafficking.
''This is a waste of money for the police, and a waste of lives for those thrown in jail,'' noted Costa.
''Go after the piranhas, not the minnows,'' he added.
Costa hailed the success of a global effort spearheaded by the UNODC to bolster the fight against drug traffickers in West Africa, which has resulted in a sharp drop in the number of African drug couriers crossing into Europe.
''That is not an indication that West Africa is free of any trafficking,'' he said.
''But it is evidence that when humanity gets together and does something, the impact is felt on the ground.''