Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Forty-fourth Session
Vienna, 20-29 March 2001
Round-up of Session


29 March 2001


Calls for Stepped-up Efforts to Reduce Demand for Illicit Drugs,
Places Four New Synthetic Substances under Treaty Control

VIENNA, 29 March (UN Information Service) -- Nations should give renewed priority to drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation and the UN should do more to help Member States combat the rising tide of amphetamine-type stimulants while continuing efforts to reduce both the supply of and demand for illicit drugs.

These were among the key directives issued today by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which has been meeting here since 20 March to review how governments and the UN itself 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. It was the first time the Commission has taken stock of where the world stands on commitments to make significant inroads in both the supply of and demand for illicit drugs by 2008.

The session, which began on 20 March, ended this afternoon.

The first progress report of the Executive Director of the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) was well received by delegates of the Commission’s 53 member countries. Speakers noted important achievements by governments, working with UNDCP support, towards eliminating coca in Bolivia and Peru, and opium poppy in Afghanistan, Laos and Viet Nam, although recognizing the vulnerability of many countries in Africa and the linkage between the drug problem and poverty, unemployment, regional conflicts, civil wars and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Austrian delegate, recalling the "general incredulity" with which the Executive Director’s proposals were first met in 1998, paid tribute to the "landmark progress" that had been made in significantly reducing cultivation of coca and poppy. In her statement on 26 March, Ambassador Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl said, "This would not have happened without the ability of the Executive-Director of UNDCP to catalyze sufficient political will both nationally in the affected countries and internationally."

The Portuguese representative praised the Programme’s new emphasis on demand reduction and Africa as future priorities, as affirmed at the outset of the Executive Director’s opening address. Many other delegations supported this view.

In action taken on 20 March, the Commission voted to place three so-called "party drugs" and one sedative under the control regime of the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and to tighten the watch over two common chemicals that are often diverted into illicit channels for processing heroin and cocaine. (For details on the drugs and chemicals, see below.)

The Commission called for strengthened dialogue with donor and recipient countries as a way of enhancing programme delivery. It also recommended holding a sufficient number of intersessional meetings, on UNDCP operations, as well as enhancing its own capacity to provide policy guidance to UNDCP.

In concluding remarks today, UNDCP Executive Director Pino Arlacchi expressed his commitment to continue strengthening the quality of the Programme’s performance, including changes in its work methods, financial management system and use of systematic evaluation of project results. He confirmed the Programme would move to results-based budgeting, in line with the Commission’s advice.

Global Drug Control Priorities

In addition to demand reduction, synthetic drugs and the drug problem in Africa, the Commission called for a continued balanced approach to drug control, which would encompass efforts to block money laundering, control "precursors" and processing chemicals, and cooperate in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. The UNDCP was seen not only as a provider of technical assistance but also as a centre of expertise, helping States share best practices and supporting their strategies.

New Items for Treaty Control

On the recommendation of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a quasijudiciary body which monitors states’ adherence to the drug control treaties, the Commission imposed 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 had found that many exporters and transshippers are voluntarily notifying importing countries of impending shipments, it recommended making such notification mandatory under the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Thus, the Commission was asked to move the chemicals from Schedule II to Schedule I of the treaty’s list of precursor and processing chemicals. The vote on acetic anhydride was 44-0, with one abstention (Switzerland). On potassium permanganate, it was 40-0, with one abstention (Switzerland).

The move is not expected to impede legitimate trade in the chemicals but only to enable governments to prevent diversion and trace suspicious shipments to clandestine laboratories.

At the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Commission added four substances for different types of regulation under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. These include three so-called "party drugs" and one sedative:

The substances to be controlled are:

  • 2C-B (also known as BDMPEA) a strong hallucinogen which can be harmful in high doses. The Commission decided by a vote of 37-0, with no abstentions, to include the substance in Schedule II of the Convention.
  • 4-MTA (also called "flatliner") a stimulant much more potent than "ecstasy". The Commission voted 39-0, with no abstentions, to list 4-MTA under Schedule I, alongside other dangerous drugs such as ecstasy and LSD.
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) (also called "liquid ecstasy"), a euphoric hypnotic linked to cases of coma, respiratory depression and death. Taking into account its experimental therapeutic uses, the Commission, by a vote of 42-0, with no abstentions, called for GHB’s scheduling in category IV.
  • Zolpidem, a sedative used for treatment of insomnia in more than 80 countries. Abuse, dependence and withdrawal symptoms have been reported. The Commission voted 44-0, with no abstentions, to place zolpidem in Schedule IV.


Attending the session were representatives of the following countries: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.

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For more information and for interview requests, contact:

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