17 February 2009

Centennial of the Drugs Control System

Criminals Exploiting Licit Commerce to Manufacture Illicit Drugs, INCB Annual Report says

INCB Annual Report launch today in Vienna highlights threats posed by the Internet and prescription drugs, relationship between security and drugs in Afghanistan and West Africa becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking into Europe

VIENNA, 19 February (UN Information Service) - In its Annual Report released today in Vienna, Austria, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned about the new channels of diversion of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as methamphetamine, amphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy). The Board said that criminal organizations often pose as fictitious companies to obtain the chemicals they need to manufacture illicit drugs. In 2008, African countries imported significant quantities of pharmaceuticals containing ephedrine and pseudophedrine that exceeded their yearly medical and scientific requirements. Numerous suspicious shipments that went to Africa had Mexico as a final destination, where methamphetamine production supplies the large market in the United States, says the Report.

The demand for pharmaceuticals containing pseudoephedrine has increased in Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The Board strongly urges all Governments to pay close attention to commercial transactions of chemicals, as traffickers keep exploiting the loopholes in international trade to obtain the raw materials needed to supply their drug labs.

International Drug Control System an important achievement of the 20th century

Achievements and challenges of the international control system for narcotic drugs are the focus of chapter one of the Report.

The system, which was founded at the 1909 Shanghai conference by the International Opium Commission, consists today of three conventions that classify illicit drugs as well as provide a mechanism of drug control and a tool for international cooperation and coordination among the relevant authorities.

"This can be considered one of the twentieth century's most important achievements in international cooperation as over 95 per cent of United Nations Member States are party to the three relevant Conventions, which cover 99 per cent of the world's population," said Prof. Ghodse.

The Report highlights that challenges to the international drug control system include non-existent access to controlled medicines in over 150 countries, inconsistent implementation of cannabis control provisions, and "rogue" Internet pharmacies, which are promoting drug abuse among vulnerable groups, in particular youth.

The INCB Report 2008 concludes that the "international drug control system has stood the test of time with credit, but it is not perfect. It is undoubtedly capable of improvement, and procedures for modification exist for this purpose."

The INCB encourages Governments to make greater investments in preventing drug abuse and encourages Governments to stimulate the rational use of opioid analgesics, where their consumption is low, in order to alleviate unnecessary suffering of millions of patients. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, at least 30 million patients and a possible 86 million suffer untreated moderate to severe pain annually. "Governments should make use of the WHO Access to Controlled Medications Programme to improve the availability of drugs for medical purposes," said Prof Ghodse.

West Africa emerging as major hub for smuggling cocaine into Europe

West Africa has become a major hub for smuggling cocaine from South America into Europe, according to the Report. The emergence of the region as a transit area for cocaine trafficking is caused, inter alia, by the geographical location, which makes West Africa an ideal staging post for trans-shipping cocaine consignments from Latin America to the growing cocaine markets in Europe. In addition, weak governmental structures in western Africa limit the capacity to fight against drug trafficking and its consequences, such as corruption and drug abuse.

The Board further expressed serious concerns that drug trafficking is undermining political, economic and social structures and weakening the control of governments over their territories and institutions. Several governments in the region have taken action to address the problem, e.g. penalties for drug trafficking were increased in Senegal and similar legislation is before the Parliament in Nigeria. The international community committed funds to support drug control efforts in Guinea-Bissau following a call by the Security Council to the Government of Guinea-Bissau to address the continued growth. INCB calls upon the international community to provide Governments of countries in West Africa with all the assistance necessary to tackle the problem.

Relationship between security and drugs in Afghanistan

The INCB warns that the lack of security in Afghanistan is severely hampering the efforts to tackle the drug problem. The country continues to remain the source of over 90 per cent of the illicit opium in the world, despite the shrinking cultivation areas of opium poppy. Opium cultivation declined by 19 per cent in spite of poor progress in eradicating opium poppy, but drug trade is a nationwide scourge and the drug abuse situation is worsening, INCB notes. The large scale smuggling of Afghan opiates has resulted in a wide range of social ills, including organized crime, corruption and drug abuse.

Additionally, cannabis cultivation has increased as this crop has become more lucrative. INCB urges the Government of Afghanistan to give priority to stopping this alarming trend and to provide farmers with sustainable options of legitimate livelihoods. INCB also urges full implementation of Security Council resolution 1817, which calls upon all Member States, in particular those producing chemical precursors, those neighbouring Afghanistan and the countries on trafficking routes, to eliminate loopholes used by criminal organizations to divert precursor chemicals from international trade.

Regional Highlights

The Report highlights major trends in drug abuse and trafficking, region by region, around the globe. West Africa has become one of the world's major hubs for smuggling cocaine from South America into Europe. East Africa is the main transit route for smuggling heroin from South-West Asia into Africa, mainly through the major airports of Addis Ababa and Nairobi.

Drug abuse is on the rise in some countries of Central America and the Caribbean. For example, in the Dominican Republic drug abuse is increasing and crime has also escalated. The growing violence among drug cartels and between drug traffickers and law enforcement officers is a major problem in North America. The Government of Mexico faces violent opposition by drug cartels to its attempts to fight organized crime and drug trafficking. Most South American countries have reported increasing abuse of cocaine, probably a spill over effect of drug trafficking throughout the region.

China, Malaysia and Viet Nam reported a significant increase in the abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants. It is feared that the widespread availability of those substances may lead to an increase in their abuse in South Asia. New routes for trafficking in drugs, including heroin from countries outside of West Asia, appear to be opening through countries in the Arabian Peninsula.

The abuse of opiates increased in the Russian Federation and other countries in Eastern Europe, as well as in countries in South-Eastern Europe along the Balkan route. Furthermore, it appears that the abuse of heroin has become more widespread among younger drug abusers in Western Europe.

A recent increase in drug trafficking from Canada to Australia has been noted. China is still the main source for methamphetamine in New Zealand, but trafficking in that substance from Canada has increased recently.

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For further information, please contact:

Lothar Mikulla
Associate Information Officer, UNIS Vienna
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5693
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5693
Email: Lothar.Mikulla@unvienna.org