Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Forty-fourth Session

Vienna, 20-29 March 2001


16 March 2001



Will Meet in Vienna from 20 to 29 March

VIENNA, 16 March (UN Information Service) -- Two years after UN member countries pledged to achieve substantial reductions in drug abuse and illicit cultivation, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will conduct its first progress review when it meets here starting Tuesday.

The 53-member body will look at how governments are living up to the goals and target dates called for by the General Assembly at a 1998 special session on the world drug problem. Discussion on this issue will be based on information provided by governments. They had been asked for specific data on what they were doing to prevent drug abuse, rehabilitate addicts, woo growers away from illicit crops, stem trafficking and money laundering and address the growing problem of amphetamine-type stimulants, including "ecstasy".

On Wednesday, 21 March, Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), will present his first biennial report following up on the General Assembly’s 1998 special session on the world drug problem. That session produced several initiatives for reducing the demand for drugs, cutting off money laundering opportunities and developing viable alternatives to cultivating illicit narcotic crops. Since then, UN member countries made landmark progress to reduce both supply and demand by 2008.

For the first time this year, instead of hearing extensive reports from its members on an array of questions, the Commission will focus on two themes, led by international panels of experts in the drug control field. Attention will centre on:

  • how to build partnerships in the areas of health, education, law enforcement and justice; and
  • how best to prevent drug abuse, particularly among children and young people.

This new format reflects the "balanced approach" endorsed by the Assembly special session and the need to pay more attention to drug abuse, particularly prevention among youth.

In connection with the international drug control treaties, the Commission may decide to add four new substances -- among them three so-called "party drugs" -- to treaty regulation and may seek tighter controls on two chemicals favoured by criminals for processing morphine and coca base into heroin and cocaine. Currently exporting countries are not required to notify importing countries of impending shipments of such chemicals, although a number already do so voluntarily.

Among the documents before the Commission will be reports on world drug abuse and trafficking trends, including an overview of drug abuse trends among children and youth and two recently issued reports of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The Commission is also expected to provide policy guidance to the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), the Vienna-based entity which helps nations at their request to tackle their drug problems.

Also on the agenda are proposals regarding UNDCP’s budget for the current and upcoming biennia. The Programme operates on a budget of $148.3 million for 2000 - 2001, which it proposes to revise by an additional $35.2 million. Plans for income and expenditure to support UNDCP’s strategy in 2002 and 2003 will be submitted at the upcoming Commission session, which continues through 29 March. An outline of the Programme’s financial status shows a continuing upswing in contributions since 1998, which it attributes to increased success in its projects and growing confidence in the Programme.

The Commission was established in 1946 as one of six subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council and is now the central policy-making body of the UN on all questions related to illicit drugs and serves as the governing body of UNDCP.

Chemicals Proposed for Closer Monitoring

The INCB, a quasijudiciary body which monitors states’ adherence to the drug control treaties, is advising the Commission to impose stricter requirements for trade in two common chemicals used in the processing of heroin and cocaine:

  • acetic anhydride (favoured by criminal groups for manufacturing heroin) has a broad range of legitimate uses including the production of aspirin, panadol and other common pharmaceuticals, as well as certain plastics.
  • potassium permanganate (used for purifying cocaine) is widely used as a water purifier, disinfectant and bleaching agent.

Although the Board has found that many exporters and transshippers are voluntarily notifying importing countries of impending shipments, it recommends making such notification mandatory under the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This could be accomplished by moving the chemicals from Schedule II to Schedule I of the treaty’s list of precursor chemicals.

The INCB does not expect that such a move would impede legitimate trade in the chemicals but believes it would enable governments to prevent diversion and trace suspicious shipments to clandestine laboratories producing heroin or cocaine.

Substances Proposed for Treaty Control

The Commission has been asked by the World Health Organization (WHO) to add four substances to the schedules for different types of regulation under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. These include three so-called "party drugs" and one sedative:

  • "2C-B" (also known as BDMPEA, Erox, Nexus or Performax) has an effect similar to but stronger than mescaline, a hallucinogen. In low doses it enhances the senses, while in high doses it produces intense visual hallucinations and distortions. This altered state of mind, says the WHO, may cause harm and thus would merit international control in Schedule II of the Convention.
  • " A4-MTA" (also known as "flatliner") is similar to but much more potent than methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as "ecstasy". Sought for its stimulant and euphoric effects, it has become part of the party culture, primarily in Europe. Since it has no known therapeutic use, the WHO urges the Commission to list it under Schedule I, alongside other dangerous drugs such as ecstasy and LSD.
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) (also called "liquid ecstasy" or "grievous bodily harm") has been linked to cases of coma, respiratory depression and death. It is sought -- primarily by "ravers" -- for its hypnotic, euphoric and hallucinogenic effects, although it was earlier popular with bodybuilders who believed it promoted growth hormone. Recognizing that the drug is legitimately used as an anaesthetic and as an aid in alcohol and opiate withdrawal, the WHO calls for its scheduling in category IV, primarily to reduce its availability for "recreational" use.
  • Zolpidem (trade names include Ambien, Bikalm, Niotal, Stilnoct and Stilnox) produces sedative and hypnotic effects. Though used for treatment of insomnia in more than 80 countries, there are reports of abuse, dependence and withdrawal symptoms. The WHO considers its abuse potential to be similar to that of many benzodiazepines and asks the Commission to place it in Schedule IV.

Expert Panelists

Leading the debate on building partnerships will be Emiliano Martin, Deputy Director-General of Spain’s National Plan on Drugs; Michel Perron, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; Lubomir Okurhlica of the National Institute on Drug Abuse of Slovakia; Gustavo Ascacibar, Head of the Prevention and Rehabilitation Unit of Peru’s Commission for Combating Drug Consumption; and F. Khan, Chairperson of South Africa’s Central Drug Authority.

Expert panelists on drug abuse among youth will be Marion Caspers-Merk, Drug Commissioner with the German Ministry of Health; June Susan Sivilli of the United States; Nicholas Augusto Perez Gomez, Director of Colombia's Presidential Programme for Combating Drug Consumption; Guido Belsasso, Commissioner of the Mexican National Council on Addictions; Jorge Nuno Negreiros de Carvalho of Portugal; and Emram M. Razzaghi of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Medical Sciences in Tehran.

Commission Members

The members of the Commission, who are elected by the Economic and Social Council, are: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.


For more information and for interview requests, contact:

Sandro Tucci, spokesman, tel.: (43-1) 26060 5629