* Cocaine market shrinking, opium cultivation up - UNODC
* Worldwide drugs demand little changed in recent years
* East and West Africa seen vulnerable to drug trafficking
* Uruguay says "old policies failed"
(Adds Uruguay statement, paragraphs 10-11)
By Fredrik Dahl and Derek Brooks
VIENNA, March 13 The global fight against
narcotics has suffered serious setbacks, including record opium
cultivation in Afghanistan and a surge of trafficking-related
violence in Central America, the U.N. anti-drugs chief said on
Yury Fedotov also noted some successes, such as a shrinking
cocaine market, at the start of a two-day meeting that will
review implementation of a 2009 plan of action to combat the
drugs problem before a special session of the U.N. General
Assembly in 2016, amid a heated debate on the merits of drugs
Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on
Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said reductions in the supply and
demand for some drugs in one part of the world had been partly
offset by increases elsewhere.
"The overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially
changed at the global level," he told the conference, which
organisers said drew 1,500 representatives from member states,
civil society organisations and other groups.
"We are strongly concerned about the vulnerability of some
regions, notably West Africa and East Africa, to illicit drug
trafficking," Fedotov said.
There are around 27 million "problem drug users" in the
world and about 210,000 narcotics-related deaths a year, a UNODC
document prepared for the conference said.
There is disagreement on how to best counter the problem,
with critics questioning the 'war on drugs' and advocating some
legalisation to try to undermine criminal gangs that thrive on
In a move that will be closely watched by other nations
discussing drug liberalisation, Uruguay's parliament in December
approved a bill to legalise and regulate the sale and production
of marijuana - the first country to take such a step.
In the United States, Washington and Colorado states have
legalised the sale of cannabis under licence, although federal
law has not changed.
Uruguay defended its new rules, saying drug trafficking
caused more deaths than addiction.
"Eighty were killed last year from drug trafficking but none
from the use of marijuana. So what is worse? Drugs or drug
trafficking?" said Diego Canepa, vice secretary of the office of
President Jose Mujica.
"The old policies have failed," he said. But Uruguay was
"not a model for anybody ... this is about our own policies."
Fedotov, who said earlier this week that legalisation was
not a solution, told the meeting that dismantling the provisions
of three international drug control conventions - one dating
back to 1961 - would not help protect people's health.
The head of the International Narcotics Control Board, which
monitors compliance with the conventions, said they had helped
limit drugs use to medical and scientific purposes.
"Do we have the right to weaken the system that we took more
than 100 years to put in place?" Raymond Yans asked.
The International Drug Policy Consortium, a non-government
network attending the meeting, said the existing drug control
system had worsened stigma, violence and organised crime.
But another group, Drug Policy Futures, said: "The
legalisation of alcohol and tobacco have been a global public
health disaster - why should we go down the same road by
legalising additional addictive drugs?"
Fedotov said the total area under coca bush cultivation fell
by 26 percent between 2007 and 2011. Cocaine use in North
America, the world's largest market, has fallen sharply, UNODC
figures show. International cooperation has also been
strengthened, with information-sharing and coordination among
"And yet there have been serious setbacks," Fedotov said,
noting opium cultivation reached record levels in Afghanistan in
2013. Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world's opium, from
which heroin is made, and its poppy-driven economy is helping to
fuel the 13-year-long war in the country.
Fedotov also said drug trafficking "has triggered a dramatic
surge of violence in Central America".
(Editing by Alistair Lyon and Robin Pomeroy)