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Illegal heroin sales soar in US and Western Europe

The rapidly growing volume of illegal heroin sales in the United States alone surpasses the entire gross national product of Austria, according to a global report from the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board.

During only the first half of 1980, it says, heroin shipments seized within, or during transit to, Western Europe were 150 percent greater than for 1979.

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The UN board considers West Germany to be the European country most afflicted by heroin, with 410 proven drug-related deaths (in a population of 62 million) during the first 10 months of 1980. Italy (population 56 million) had 145 proven drug-related deaths, and Denmark (population 5 million), 105.

The report speaks of a widening crisis affecting the whole of the Western world -- as well as the producing and transmitting countries. During the past year, the "golden crescent" countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were the world's major suppliers of opium poppy used for heroin production, with other Middle East countries serving as staging and transit areas.

"Although much of the heroin is destined for Western markets," the UN board says, "the producers are not immune to narcotics abuse, as in the case of Iran, where the authorities estimate that the local opium addicts number close to a million."

Based on a review of drug abuse control and trafficking, held here in the Austrian capital last autumn, the report has been prepared for discussion during February by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Because of the volatile nature of the illicit drug trade -- affected by changing market conditions, governmental policies, international relations, and even the weather -- the report is to some extent out of date.

Thus it notes with satisfaction that heroin supplies from Southeast Asia have declined as a result of governmental and international action reinforced by adverse weather conditions during the past two crop years. But the rains have just returned to the poppy fields of the "golden triangle" region of Burma, Laos , and Thailand, promising a bumper crop late this year.

The UN board describes a disastrous, expanding gray area involving both legal and illegal aspects of drug transactions. It says the oversupply of opiates for legal export has become a big problem because of increased production.

The report offers little optimism in the face of a relentlessly escalating global tragedy. It illustrates the enormity of the issue in financial terms by estimating the illegal sale of narcotics in the US alone during the year 1978 at up to $63 billion -- roughly equal to the value of the total annual economic activity of Austria, the country where the UN board is based.

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