Press Releases

27 February 2004

Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board Focuses on Relationship Between Drug Abuse, Crime and Violence at Community Level

VIENNA, 3 March (UN Information Service) -- The impact of drug abuse on crime and violence at the community level is the main focus of the 2003 Annual Report of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released here today.

The macro level political and security implications of transnational organized crime syndicates dealing in drugs has been recognized by the international community for some time. In this year’s Report, the Vienna-based INCB -- an independent quasi-judicial body of thirteen experts monitoring com­­pliance with the international drug control treaties -- also urges Governments to give special atten­tion to micro-trafficking -- i.e. community level drug abuse and related crime.

“At this level, drug abuse is often linked with antisocial behaviour such as delinquency, crime, and violence and has negative consequences for individuals, families, neighbourhoods and communities that need to be addressed by the international community and individual governments,” INCB Presi­dent Philip O. Emafo points out.

While the Board clarifies that most crime related to drug abuse is non-violent and petty, it stresses that the impact of illicit drugs, crime and violence is highly damaging to local communities at the micro-social level.

“The very fabric of society is challenged by the continued presence in communities of drug-related crime. Communities that suffer disproportionate levels of violent drug-related crime also suffer from higher levels of other criminality and the disruption to civil society associated with it,” says the Board.

The relationship between violence and illicit drug abuse is highly complex and has to be examined keeping a range of factors in mind. The Report maintains that a demonstrable link to violence and crime exists in that some drug addicts resort to violence either to fund their habits or indeed as a result of the psycho-pharmacological impact of some illicit drugs. However, based on controlled laboratory-based experiments, INCB stresses that it is very difficult and misleading to suggest a direct causal link between violence and illicit drug ingestion. This link has to be examined with reference to culturally and socially situated factors, that, in turn, influence an individual’s behaviour.

The INCB calls on Governments to implement comprehensive, community-based drug demand reduc­tion policies, paying special attention to drug abuse prevention in combination with a range of social, economic and law enforcement measures. These should include: creating a local environment that is not conducive to drug dealing and micro-trafficking; supporting local efforts at employment and licit income generation; educational programmes targeting socially marginalized groups; and integrated as well as targeted intervention work with risk groups. The Board also notes that programmes need to be sustainable in the long term in order to generate the desired impact.

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction policies have previously been addressed by the Board. In the current Annual Report the Board once again “calls on Governments which intend to include “harm reduction” mea­sures into their demand reduction strategy, to carefully analyse the overall impact of such measures. These may sometimes be positive for an individual or for a local community while having far-reaching negative consequences at the national and international levels.”

In reaction to specific harm reduction measures such as the establishment and/or operation of drug injection rooms the Board points out that “the operation of such facilities remains a source of grave concern” and “reiterates that they violate the provisions of the international drug control con­ven­tions.”

Cyber Trafficking

The Report also draws attention to a continued increase in cyber trafficking of pharmaceutical pro­ducts containing internationally controlled substances. Internet pharmacies, which can operate from any part of the world, play a major role in the increasing illicit supply of pharmaceutical products con­taining narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Illegally operating Internet pharmacies do not require a doctor’s prescription or just offer on-line or telephone consultations.

Citing uneven and lax implementation of laws governing the Internet, the Board urges Govern­ments to take a more proactive stand. To support legal action Governments should ensure that the offer for illicit trafficking and the diversion of pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs or psycho­tropic substances via the Internet are established as criminal offences.

The Board also points to the dangerously widespread perception that misuse and abuse of phar­maceutical products is not as harmful as the abuse of illicitly manufactured drugs. The Board there­fore, notes with concern that the judiciary in many countries still does not attribute adequate severity to diversions and trafficking of licit controlled substances.

Essential Drugs Inadequate for Pain Relief

In keeping with its task of monitoring and ensuring that an adequate supply of narcotic drugs exists for licit medical purposes, the INCB warns that the availability and consumption of some essen­tial narcotic drugs, particularly opioids, which are used for pain treatment, including palliative care, remains extremely low in many countries worldwide.

The Board has identified that the low availability of certain types of medicine can be related to at least three different factors. First, unnecessarily strict rules and regulations have created an impede­ment for providing adequate access of populations to certain controlled drugs in some countries. Second, the negative perception about controlled drugs among medical professionals and patients in many countries has limited their rational use. Third, lack of economic means and insufficient resources for health care has resulted in inadequate medical treatment, including the use of narcotic drugs.

The current global production is ample enough to meet a significant increase in the demand for narcotic drugs for the world population. The Board encourages manufacturing countries, in cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, to explore ways to make narcotic drugs, in particular opioids, used for the treatment of pain, more affordable for countries with scarce financial resources and low levels of consumption.

Chemical Control

In the Report, INCB calls upon all governments concerned to join forces in combating the problem of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) abuse through Project Prism, a worldwide operation to pre­vent diversions of “precursor” chemicals which traffickers need for clandestine manufacture of ATS. Pro­ject Prism is designed to give governments the capacity to address the ATS problem. It has a two-pronged approach: preventing illicit manufacture of the substances by stopping traffickers from obtain­ing the chemicals they require, and, identifying and dismantling the laboratories where such manu­facture already takes place, by using a variety of law enforcement investigative techniques, such as con­trolled deliveries.

Regional operations were started under the umbrella of Project Prism in January 2003. In parti­cu­lar, law enforcement investigations have been initiated for interceptions in Europe of amphe­­tamine and Ecstasy precursors, and in the Americas for methamphetamine precursors, to track the sources of the chemicals and to prosecute those responsible for the diversions.

These activities reinforce the existing tracking programmes, which were introduced by INCB a decade ago, to prevent diversions of methamphetamine precursors from licit international trade. Pro­ject Prism also follows the launches of Operation Purple in 2001 and Operation Topaz in 2002 which focused on the control of the chemical precursors for cocaine and heroin.

Regional Highlights

Despite the armed intervention and the political change in Afghanistan and the fight against terror, illicit cultivation of and trafficking in opiates has grown which may result in more political instability. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan continued on an even larger scale in 2003.

As a result of two years of bumper crops of opium poppy in Afghanistan, it is expected that heroin trafficking along the Balkan route and through Eastern Europe will continue to increase -- this may also lead to the reversal of the declining trends in the abuse of heroin in Western Europe.

More widespread cultivation and abuse of cannabis in Europe combined with a relaxation of con­trols might counteract required efforts to eradicate illicit cultivation and combat trafficking in Europe and else­where in the world.

Information gathered from conflict-stricken countries, in particular the Central African Republic, the Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, indicates that arms and ammunitions used by rebel groups and criminal organizations may have been partially procured with the proceeds of illicit drug trafficking.

The increased focus on the political threat of the drug problem has led many South American Governments to devote an ever-increasing proportion of their limited resources to reducing illicit drug supply, including by the eradication of illicit crops, the interdiction of drug trafficking and the introduce­tion of measures against money-laundering.

Abuse of prescription drugs in the United States continues and is exacerbated by the unlawful selling of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances by online pharmacies from within and outside the United States. Between 1995 and 2002, there was a 163 per cent increase in the number of emer­gency-room visits linked to the abuse of narcotic pain medication.

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