Drugs are everywhere, say alarmed parents. The drug problem is out of control, cries the media. Legalize drugs to reduce crime, say some commentators.

Such exasperation is understandable in the many communities where illicit drugs cause crime, illness, violence and death. Yet, worldwide statistical evidence points to a different reality: drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained.

This is true whether we look over the long term or even just over the past few years. Humanity has entered the 21st century with much lower levels of drug cultivation and drug addiction than 100 years earlier. Even more importantly, in the past few years, worldwide efforts to reduce the threat posed by illicit drugs have effectively reversed a quarter-century-long rise in drug abuse that, if left unchecked, could have become a global pandemic.

The illicit drug problem has three main elements: cultivation and production; trafficking and retailing; and consumption and abuse. We do not know as much as we would like about the middle link of this chain as the drug trade is notoriously hard to monitor. But, as this report shows, we do know a lot about the beginning and the end of the chain and can confidently make two points: (1) There is less land under coca and opium cultivation today than a few years ago, and significantly less than a century ago; (2) The severity of drug addiction has been contained. The number of addicts, especially those dependent on cocaine and heroin, has declined massively over the last century and, worldwide, has remained stable in the past few years.

Of course, the world drug control system is the sum of its parts and progress in one area can be offset by opposite trends elsewhere. Greater global success will depend on the commitment of all our societies to turn containment of the drug problem into a sustained reduction – everywhere. We are not there yet.

This World Drug Report demonstrates progress made in 2005, but also highlights some weak elements in the global drug control system – most notably heroin supply in Afghanistan, cocaine demand in Europe, and cannabis supply/demand everywhere.