5 March 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on 2007 narcotics control board report

 


The principle of proportionality had been highlighted in the 2007 International Narcotics Control Board’s annual report, so as to continue urging Governments to more effectively address high-priority offences with severe punishments, while adopting alternatives to punishment in cases of lesser offences, Board member Melvyn Levitsky told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference prior to the report’s official launch in Vienna.


Continuing, Mr. Levitsky said the 13-member Board was the monitoring body for the implementation of three major international drug control conventions.  Members acted in their personal capacity and were elected by the Economic and Social Council -- 10 on the recommendations of Governments and 3 on the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).  The Board collaborated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and with other international bodies, such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Interpol and the World Customs Organization.


Further, he said, the Board’s job was twofold, first to deal with licit drugs that had a potential for illicit use and, second, to deal with illegally manufactured drugs.  The first category applied to drugs such as pain killers or antidepressants that could be diverted into the illegal market for illicit use by people without prescriptions.  The second category applied to substances termed illicit by the drug‑related conventions, including cannabis, cocaine, opium and some of their derivatives.  Primarily through reporting and training, the Board worked with Governments to ensure that adequate supplies of analgesic pain relievers, such as the morphine and codeine derived from the opium plant, were available for legal use and that their use for pain relief purposes was expanded.


In relation to the work on the illicit drug trade at the global level, he said the high-priority offences, as spelled out in the relevant conventions, included money-laundering and large-scale trafficking.  The trafficking also related to the movement of precursors required to convert such drugs as opium and coca into heroin and cocaine.  Less serious crimes, such as drug abuse, were also spelled out in the conventions, and Governments were given latitude on to how to address them.  Alternatives included drug courts that called for mandatory treatment rather than imprisonment.  Ultimately, however, the current annual report brought out the importance of Governments applying the principle of proportionality to high-profile offenders.  Actors and sports figures must be given equal treatment under the law, so as not to send a wrong message about drug abuse.


Moving on, he said the report also dealt with other matters of concern to the Board during 2007.  First, there had been an increase in the abuse of legal drugs worldwide, particularly in the United States, where authorities themselves estimated that abuse of legal drugs -- that is, legal drugs used illegally -- was the largest drug problem in the country.  Abuse of painkillers such as Vicodan and Oxycontin had outpaced the problems associated with cocaine and heroin.  Governments were encouraged to deal with the situation before it became an even worse problem.


The use of amphetamine-type substances such as methamphetamines and ecstacy was of concern, he said, particularly the illegal trafficking of precursor chemicals for methamphetamines and the attempt to target young people.  Substances readily available in American and European drug stores, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, could also act as precursors.  If shipped for that purpose and shipped illegally, the result could be an explosion, such as had happened in a number of cases recently.


Further, he said, countries in Africa and off-shore islands were now being targeted as transit points for the shipment of illegal precursors and as entry ports for cocaine trafficking into Europe.  Cocaine use had not been a problem in Europe until the last 10 years.  Now, it was “spring boarded” from the Caribbean region via Africa, in another example of traffickers taking advantage of weak points in the global infrastructure.  Europe was also now becoming the source of amphetamine-type substances, such as ecstacy, for shipment to the largest market for the substance, the United States.  In both Europe and Canada, there was concern about so-called “injection rooms” and “safe crack kits”, which were misguided attempts to ward off HIV infection and gave off the wrong message that drug use could become safe.


On another issue, he said Afghanistan had remained a major concern over the past year by still being the producer of 90 per cent of the opium that went into the heroin trade.  In response to questions, he said alternative development could work, as it had in the “golden triangle” that included northern Thailand.  In Afghanistan, such programmes could not be put into place, because the lack of security prevented alternative development crews from going in to work with farmers.  The Government simply could not exert its influence adequately in the environment controlled by drug lords.  It was a classic case of the close association between drugs and crime -- His students at Michigan State University had dubbed his public policy classes on that issue the “drugs and thugs” course.


In response to another question on the Board’s influence with Governments, he said the Board had to be very careful, urging Governments to take appropriate actions, but without encouraging them to break other treaty obligations, including those related to human rights.  Asked what missions were up-coming in the next year, he reiterated that the Board’s purpose was to achieve universal ratification of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.


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For information media • not an official record