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Laos’ opium poppy cultivation rose by 58 percent, from 1,900 hectares in 2009 to 3,000 hectares in 2010, a recent UN report showed.
According to the World Drug Report 2011 released by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last week, the figure for Laos was higher than in any year since 2005, and has increased significantly since the lowest level of 1,500 hectares in 2007.
“Drugs are an international issue that crosses borders and Laos seems to bear the brunt as most production occurs outside our borders,” Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong last week told United Nations agencies, international organizations and local media in Laos’ capital of Vientiane.
Around 40,000 people are addicted to amphetamines and 1.4 million young people in Laos are considered to be at high risk of drug abuse, President of the Lao National Committee for Drug Control and Supervision Soubanh Srithirath said.
He explained that youths are at risk of becoming involved in drug abuse because of a combination of curiosity and a lack of knowledge about the damaging effects of drugs, so they need to be educated on the issue.
Soubanh added, “in the long term, drugs have a dangerous impact on security, stability and national socio-economic development, so the Party and government are seriously committed to fighting this social evil.”
UNODC representative to Laos Leik Boonwaat told Xinhua on Monday that Laos faces a serious threat from the resurgence of opium poppy cultivation and increases in the transnational trafficking of drugs, adding that the past three years has seen significant expansion of illicit opium production and unprecedented seizures of illicit drugs.
He explained, “in the last three years, there has been an over 380 percent increase in heroin seizures from 17.5 kg seized in 2008 to 84.34 kg in 2010. Seizure of amphetamine-type stimulants ( ATS) has also increased from 1.23 million tablets in 2008 to 24.5 million tablets in 2010. This alone would bring the estimated value of seized drugs to nearly 100 million U.S. dollars.”
Leik said the Lao government must address the threat posed by illicit drugs if it is to achieve its development priorities. “I would like to reiterate our support to the Lao government for implementing the National Drug Control Master Plan,” Leik said.
On June 24, the Lao authorities destroyed 77 packets of heroin, 1.2 million amphetamine tablets, 250 grams of cocaine, 2,224 kg of dried cannabis, 7.7 kg of opium and 1.4 million tablets of a cold medicine containing a chemical precursor used to produce amphetamines in a ceremony to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Poverty has been identified as the main reason poor people have continued to grow poppies in Laos, and eradication efforts have not been aided by an increase in the price of opium from 1,327 U.S. dollars per kg in 2009 to 1,670 U.S. dollars per kg in 2010.
The Lao government with the support of UNODC developed the National Drug Control Master Plan 2009-2013 to address these challenges. The Master Plan was approved by the government in late 2009. The UNODC-supported projects in Laos have clearly demonstrated that Alternative Development does work but efforts have to be expanded and sustained.