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Illegal drugs cheaper in europe than ever before

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Cocaine, heroin cheaper than ever in Europe: report
Thu Nov 23, 2006 9:26 AM ET

By Axel Bugge

LISBON (Reuters) - Illegal drugs may be cheaper than ever before in Europe, with prices of heroin slumping 45 percent and cocaine down 22 percent over five years, according to the first Europe-wide report of its kind on drug prices.

The steep fall in heroin prices in 1999-2004 came as drug production in Afghanistan surged so much after the fall of the Taliban that supply could now be exceeding global demand for heroin, threatening to spur more drug use.

Afghanistan accounts for about 90 percent of world production of opium -- the raw material for heroin -- and its production has soared since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the government of the Islamist Taliban in 2001. NATO troops are currently battling a Taliban insurgency, which has been fuelled by the drugs trade.

"Afghanistan is the key player in global heroin production and developments in the country have the potential to impact on the kind of drug problem we will face in Europe in the future," said Wolfgang Gotz, head of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), in a statement.

Gotz said "we cannot ignore the dangers posed by a growing surplus of heroin on the global illicit market." In 2004 a record 19 tonnes of heroin was seized in Europe, up 10 percent from 2003, the report said.

But according to the five-year price analysis in the Lisbon-based agency's 2006 annual report, the price of virtually all drugs in Europe, from cannabis to ecstasy, cocaine and heroin slumped from 1999 to 2004.

"Average prices were falling in most countries and for most substances, in some cases by almost half," the report said.

It said there is no long-term data on the street price of drugs, but available information indicated prices are lower now than they were a decade ago, with cocaine and ecstasy cheaper today than in the late 1980s.

Although there was a dip in European cocaine seizures in 2004 relative to 2003, the "overall long-term trend is probably still upwards."

Price is just one of many factors that prompt people to take drugs and there is no simple way of saying it is spurring more drug users, the report said.

"Nonetheless we cannot fail to be concerned that across Europe drugs are becoming cheaper in real terms," EMCDDA chairman Marcel Reimen said in a statement.

"If this means that those who have a tendency to consume drugs will use them more, then the ultimate cost of drug-taking in terms of healthcare and damage to our communities is likely to be considerable," he said.

Drug prices still varied considerably in different European countries, with cannabis ranging from 2.3 euros per gram in Portugal to 12 euros per gram in Norway and heroin going for 12 euros a gram in Turkey to 141 euros a gram in Sweden.

Reuters 2007

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