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Drug consumption has grown and spread to new countries, while it has declined only modestly, if at all, in traditional consuming countries.
Newly prosperous countries such as China have become major destinations for international drug trafficking. Countries that were once mainly transit areas, such as Brazil and Mexico, have witnessed increased consumption.
In part, the growth in consumption parallels the development of more robust middle classes. The increased availability of disposal income, particularly in South America, where the middle class has doubled in size since 2000, is reflected in increased markets for illicit drugs in countries such as Brazil and Uruguay.
However, increased drug consumption also afflicts the poor and marginalized. Particularly since trafficking organizations have diversified and passed on some of their risks in production and transit countries by paying for local operations in-kind (i.e., with drugs) rather than with cash.
This has created a new stratum of local criminal organizations that market to domestic consumers in transit countries such as Brazil and Mexico, and within regions such as West Africa and Central America, as a way to convert in-kind payments into cash.
Law enforcement strategies have at times succeeded in disrupting particular production areas and transshipment routes, but at the cost of pushing drug production and trade to other areas.
– Suppression of opium production in Thailand and Iran in the 70s and Pakistan in the 80s pushed poppy cultivation and production to Afghanistan. – A focus on the Andean region during the 80s and 90s by US counternarcotics policies produced a shift northward, both in production toward Colombia and in transit toward Mexico. – Increased law enforcement activity in Mexico during the 2000s drove trafficking organizations toward weaker and more vulnerable states in Central America.