Baltic countries' drug abuse on rise

The Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are no longer importers, but exporters of amphetamines and drug abuse in the region is on the rise, the U.N.'s drugs and crime chief said Wednesday.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime, said escalating drug abuse in the region is leading to a rise in organized crime, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and corruption.

Costa, speaking at a Lithuanian government-sponsored forum on drug abuse and control in the Baltic region, praised the Baltic governments for their efforts to combat drug abuse but said more must be done.

"The Baltic region, the Nordic countries and Eastern Europe remain targets for heroin traffickers," Costa said.

Amphetamines, which were mainly imported into the Baltics during the 1990s, are now being made in underground labs and exported, according to police. In 1997, for example, Lithuanian police uncovered one such lab. In 2000 alone, they uncovered six.

"Those amphetamine factories are mushrooming faster than we are able to track and close them down," Lithuanian Interior Minister Gintaras Furmanavicius told the forum. "Lithuania has already become an amphetamine exporter."

Illegal drug use was strictly punished and pushed underground by the totalitarian Soviet regime that ruled over the Baltics during the nearly five-decade-long occupation of the region. But with independence in 1991 came a growth in the illegal drug trade.


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