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22 February 2010

INCB Warns of an Increase in the Use of "Date-Rape Drugs"

INCB Annual Report launch today in Vienna highlights prevention of drug abuse, the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and alarming new trends in the manufacture of drugs

VIENNA, 24 February (UN Information Service) - In its Annual Report released today in Vienna, Austria, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is warning that the use of so called "date-rape drugs" is on the rise. INCB is also raising the alarm about new psychoactive substances which are easier to obtain and under less stringent international controls.

The "date-rape drug" phenomenon is evolving rapidly, as sexual abusers attempt to circumvent more rigorous drug controls by using substances not restricted by the international drug conventions. Stricter control measures by governments, in close cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, have been effective as reports about the misuse of Flunitrazepam have become rare. This benzodiazepine sold under the brand name Rohypnol was once so commonly misused for sexual assault that it was called the "date-rape drug". In its Report, INCB calls on all governments to implement the pertinent Resolution 52/8 from March 2009 of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to combat the misuse of pharmaceutical products to commit sexual assault as soon as possible and to be vigilant about the worrying increase in "date-rape drug" abuse.

Prevention of Drug Abuse

Society has to give urgent attention to preventing drug abuse, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board said, underlining the need for more actions and commitment. Measures to prevent and reduce drug abuse by people who are either not using or not seriously involved with drugs - so-called primary prevention - are the focus of the first chapter of the Report.

"Preventing drug abuse is a crucial area of demand reduction. Primary prevention encompasses measures taken to prevent and reduce drug use in populations that are either not using or not seriously involved with drugs," said INCB President, Professor Sevil Atasoy. "There is good reason for society to give concerted attention to preventing drug abuse. Even a single early drug using experience can result in serious consequences, such as unintentional injury, overdose or arrest."

The Report calls on governments to re-establish the place of primary prevention alongside secondary prevention as well as on policy makers to establish a clear focal point for primary prevention. As primary prevention by governments alone will not suffice, there needs to be collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others. INCB President Atasoy says: "Partnerships with civil society need to be forged at all levels, locally, nationally and internationally to ensure scarce resources are applied as efficiently as possible and to increase effectiveness in reducing the prevalence of drug use." With limited resources, governments should pay attention to both young people who are not using or occasionally using drugs and to those using drugs frequently, underlines the Report.

Growing Problem of Prescription Drug Abuse

The Report says that abuse of prescription drugs has become a major concern in some countries. A greater number of people are abusing such drugs, even than those abusing heroin, cocaine and MDMA ("ecstasy") put together in some countries. High profile celebrity deaths have shed light on the dangers of prescription drug abuse in 2009. Abuse of such drugs has been spreading over the world in recent years and INCB is calling for more awareness of this 'hidden' problem.

Prescription drug abuse needs to be tackled urgently in order to stop its further spreading and to prevent more fatal incidents amongst celebrities and others. The INCB recommends governments to either prohibit or closely control the sales of internationally controlled substances by Internet pharmacies and telephone call centres, in order to close down the illicit supply channels.

New Processes, Routes and Substances Used by Criminal Networks to Manufacture Drugs

Highly organized and powerful criminal networks are using new processes, routes and substances to keep drug manufacturing operations alive, warns the INCB. In the face of stricter controls of chemicals, traffickers are finding new ways to fuel their illegal exploits and are still able to obtain the chemicals they need from legal trade channels.

The demand for methamphetamine precursors has had serious repercussions throughout the Americas, where some governments are making major efforts to free their countries from the grip of powerful criminal organizations. As the Report indicates, the power of such networks is linked to the vast wealth generated by illicit drug manufacture, particularly of methamphetamine.

INCB is helping governments to efficiently exchange data on trade, diversions and seizures. Together with the INCB online system for pre-export notifications, international collaborative initiatives and operations have resulted in more effective monitoring of suspicious transactions and the identification of trafficking trends and networks. Improved exchange of intelligence information has yielded significant results in targeting the diversion of chemicals.

Hundred Years of Drug Control, Major Landmark in International Cooperation

The year 2009 marked a century of multilateral drug control efforts which started when the International Opium Commission was convened in Shanghai, China, in February 1909. International drug control has evolved considerably over hundred years. A series of multilateral drug control agreements were concluded, leading up to the adoption of the three international drug control treaties that are the current framework for action in international drug control. To pay tribute to the achievements in international drug control, a special section of the Annual Report of the INCB is devoted to the commemoration of the convening of the International Opium Commission, which was held on 26 and 27 February 2009 in Shanghai, China.

At this landmark event, Professor Hamid Ghodse, then INCB President, recalled the spirit of the original Shanghai Conference, which met when the opium trade was very lucrative, generating millions of dollars in revenues. The challenges that the international community faces were important such as the under-utilization of narcotic drugs for medical purposes, Professor Ghodse said, adding that "Governments and the international community as a whole have to find a way to tackle them, bearing in mind the principles of shared responsibility, the sovereignty of nations, the territorial integrity of States and the need to address the world drug problem in a balanced and integrated manner."

Regional Highlights

The Report highlights major trends in drug abuse and trafficking, region by region, around the globe. After years of increasing cocaine trafficking from South America through West Africa to Europe and to a lesser extent to North America, there was a decline in seizures of cocaine since 2008 and no large seizure in 2009 at all. However, smuggling remains a serious problem and contributes to increasing drug abuse in West Africa.

Drug trafficking has become a major security threat in Central America and the Caribbean and has an impact on the increasing drug abuse and homicides linked to organized crime. While measures taken by the Mexican Government, including the deployment of military troops, have resulted in the disruption of drug trafficking operations throughout North America, organized criminal groups have expanded their control over drug trafficking operations throughout the continent. Mexican drug cartels have expanded their control to cover the entire supply chain for illicit drugs, from shipment from South America to distribution in the United States. In South America, the total potential manufacture of cocaine of the region decreased and constitutes the lowest output since 2003, due to a significant decrease in Colombia.

After tremendous progress in East and South-East Asia in the past, countries in the region faced setbacks in reducing illicit opium poppy cultivation in 2008. Trafficking in methamphetamine and illicit manufacture of MDMA ("ecstasy") also increased. Seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants in South Asia show that trafficking in the substances may be increasing in the region. India has emerged as one of the main sources of drugs sold through illegal Internet pharmacies, where orders placed abroad are dispatched to buyers using courier and postal services, which have became a common means of smuggling drugs abroad. After peaking in 2007, illicit cultivation of opium poppy and the illicit production of opium in West Asia decreased in 2008 and 2009.

A decline in the abuse of cannabis and cocaine has been observed in the United Kingdom and Spain. The abuse of cocaine is stable or declining in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, but increasing in France and Ireland. Likewise, the abuse of amphetamines and MDMA ("ecstasy") is stabilizing or decreasing in Europe. In Denmark, Spain and, to a limited extent in the United Kingdom, drug users are replacing those drugs with cocaine. Europe remains the largest market for cannabis resin. Spain accounts for the largest total amount of global seizures of cannabis resin.

The demand for MDMA ("ecstasy") in Australia has increased in recent years. The smuggling of pharmaceutical preparations containing pseudoephedrine into New Zealand has been rising significantly. In spite of closer regional cooperation to address drug control issues, the low rate of accession by States in Oceania to the international drug control treaties and the geographical proximity of the region to illicit drug manufacturing in South-East Asia make the region more vulnerable to drug trafficking.

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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