Speaking of: : The Line on Drugs

Local and regional drug traffickers have gone global, attaining new highs of influence on international economics and politics. "Today, countries that are not suffering from the harmful consequences of drug abuse are the exception rather than the rule," the International Narcotics Control Board has reported. Stemming the pernicious tide is a never-ending battle waged by local police forces and customs services and the 13-member INCB, which monitors drug trends.

Although cocaine gets notoriety in the United States, the opium trade has also surged worldwide in recent years.

Annual Drug Offenses

There seems little doubt that the United States leads the world in drug offenses. But comparisons are tricky because legal and police systems vary from nation to nation. Some examples from 1990, the latest global data:

United States: 888,638

Germany: 103,629

Canada: 67,882

France: 56,522

Russia: 35,309

Italy: 30,691

Britain: 26,586

Japan: 22,095

Israel: 7,803

Egypt: 7,699

Kenya: 6,642

China: 3,670

Saudi Arabia: 3,383

Chile: 1,663

Turkey: 1,104

Congo: 26

NOTE: U.S. figures are for state and local arrests only.

SOURCES: International Criminal Police Organization; FBI/Uniform Crime Reports


* The first international conference dealing with drug trafficking was in 1909 in Shanghai. The 13-nation meeting was dubbed the Opium Commission. The first drug-control treaty, the International Opium Convention, was adopted at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1912. The treaty sought to regulate shipments of narcotic drugs used for medicinal purposes.

* Most of the world's drug users are between the ages of 18 and 35 and are employed.

* In a study on cocaine addiction using laboratory animals, the substance was repeatedly chosen over food until the animal overdosed or starved to death.

* In 1993, University of Michigan researchers concluded that drug use by American youth is on the upswing. The most dramatic increase was in the use of marijuana: up from 15.2% in 1992 to 26% in 1993 for high school seniors.

* The synthetic methadone was created by German scientists during World War II in the face of a morphine shortage. Effects of the drug last longer than morphine. It is used in many heroin detoxification centers today.

* LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was initially synthesized in 1938. LSD was first discovered as a recreational drug by a chemist who accidentally ingested it in 1943 and reported seeing images and having a sense of vertigo.

* In 1994, the U.S. Customs Service seized 10,354 pounds of khat. The fresh khat leaf, chewed for stimulation, has been used for thousands of years in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

* Heroin produced in Mexico is nearly all destined for the U.S. market. In 1992, 23% of heroin seized in the United States was from Mexico.

* One of the greatest substance-abuse problems in South America is the inhalation of glue and other solvents, largely by street children in urban slums in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The abuse of cough medicines containing the substance codeine is on the upswing in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Philippines. SOURCES: Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1993; The United Nations and Drug Abuse Control; 1995 Information Please Almanac.


Organized crime is a key component of the global drug trade. Syndicates are largely responsible for the networking, trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs, along with other rackets. Their total annual income is estimated at $750 billion--exceeding the gross domestic product of most countries, a recent U.N. report stated.

Some organized crime groups and their monikers:

Hong Kong-Triads. Dealing mainly in heroin and other opium derivatives.

Colombia-The Cali Cartel. Has surpassed its rival in Medillin in the cocaine trade.

Japan-Yakuza. The nation's traditional criminal network, increasingly linked with the Triads in distribution of the methamphetamine "ice.".

Russia-Vory v Zakonye. A product of the post-Soviet rackets.

Italy-Cosa Nostra. Pioneered large-scale drug trafficking to the United States.

U.S. Customs Seizures

Heroin and Opium

Opium is derived from juice of unripe capsules of poppy plants. It dates back thousands of years to the Mediterranean region. The painkiller morphine is extracted from opium or from the poppy straw. In turn, heroin is extracted from morphine after a brief chemical process. This highly addictive substance has been deemed "the greatest public health hazard" by the United Nations.

Heroin Seizures 1994: 2,577 pounds

Opium Seizures 1994: 1,361 pounds


Extracted from a shrub grown in South America. In the Andes, the leaves are chewed to overcome exhaustion and hunger. Coca paste, derived from the manufacture of cocaine, is mixed with tobacco or marijuana and then smoked. In the United States, cocaine is snorted and injected. In crystalline form, known as "crack," it is smoked for an intense, temporary high.

Cocaine Seizures 1994: 204,391 pounds

Others (Excluding Marijuana)

Hallucinogens include PCP (phencyclidine hydrochloride), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and mescaline, a substance derived from peyote cactus. Stimulants such as methamphetamine were originally marketed as "diet aids" but are now largely outlawed. The latest form of methamphetamine abuse is "ice" --a crystalline version that is smoked. Other Drug Seizures 1994: 24,120,764 pounds

SOURCE: "The United Nations and Drug Abuse Control" Researched by LAURA A. GALLOWAY and JANET LUNDBLAD / Los Angeles Times

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