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Book Chapter

Publication Date



Liberal Arts and Sciences


UNGASS; UNODC; drug trafficking; cocaine; cannabis; heroin; methamphetamine; fentanyl; Myanmar; Thailand


Twenty years after the UN General Assembly Special Session called on the international community to commit to a “drug-free world,” the world is anything but drug-free. Drug use has become an even more global problem. This chapter maps trends in the global consumption and production of illicit drugs since the 1990s. First, it explores the centrality of heroin, particularly in Afghanistan, which produces 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium, and traces heroin’s evolution in the United States, as diversified by pharmaceutical opioids and fentanyl. Second, it tracks the globalization of cocaine use, its new markets in Africa and Europe and a trail of intensified drug violence in Mexico, Brazil, and Central America. Cannabis use, too, has continuously expanded into the world’s leading illicit pleasure, due to new technologies and strains, and lenient or decriminalization policies by states and nations. Lastly is the growth of methamphetamine, whose production and use exploded in the United States and then Southeast Asia. In 2016 the UNGASS admitted its failure to see the endurance of illicit drugs, although still blocking attempts at major drug policy reform.


This material was originally published in The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History edited by Paul Gootenberg and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press, available at For permission to reuse this material, please visit



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