By Dave Bewley-Taylor for the Global Drug Policy Observatory/Swansea University. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of an increasingly honest and sophisticated discourse surrounding the measurement of illicit drug markets. With this has come a growing acceptance among some governments and international organisations of the concept of uncertainty; an inherent characteristic of our understanding of any illegal market. At the UN level, for example, this is reflected in the use of data ranges rather than specific point figures for drug use prevalence and associated variables within the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) flagship annual publication, the World Drug Report (WDR). The WDR also now openly contains the admission that there are enormous data gaps in certain regions, particularly in Asia and Africa. Both of these parts of the world possess expanding populations and accelerating rates of urbanization, phenomena associated with increasing levels of the illicit use of a range of psychoactive substances. As such, although sometimes relying on extrapolation and expert opinion for some sense of ‘ground truth’, out-of-date and incomplete figures are omitted from some regional and sub-regional assessments of prevalence rates. The result is a more candid, if still inherently problematic, attempt to offer an overview of aspects of a complex and increasingly fluid illicit market.

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