Afghanistan: UN-backed panel voices alarm at surge in opium cultivation

3 November 2006 – A United Nations-backed panel on narcotics control today expressed alarm at the rise in illicit opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, by far the world’s largest supplier, and called on its neighbours to crack down on the apparent smuggling of a chemical needed for the manufacture of heroin within the country.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Board, an independent and quasi-judicial control organ set up in 1961 to monitor implementation of UN drug conventions, noted that although acetic anhydride needed to make heroin appears to be available in the country, the sources from where it is smuggled have not been identified.

“The Board is extremely concerned that hardly any of the countries bordering Afghanistan have reported seizures of acetic anhydride during 2005 and 2006,” INCB President Philip O. Emafo told the panel’s 87th session. “The Board therefore urges all Governments in the neighbouring countries to ensure that acetic anhydride transiting through their countries illicitly, is intercepted.”

Various UN agencies have this year voiced increasing concern at the sharp rise in opium cultivation in Afghanistan, which accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s supply, calling for enhanced security and law enforcement as well as efforts to reduce demand in consumer countries.

Last month, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned the world’s health authorities to prepare for a significant increase in the number of deaths from heroin overdoses. “The abundant supply of Afghan heroin is likely to result in dramatic increases in the purity of street heroin,” he said.

“This, in turn, is likely to prompt a substantial increase in the number of deaths by overdose as addicts are not used to injecting doses containing such high concentrations of the drug,” he added.

Mr. Costa, together with representatives of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the World Customs Organization and the international police organization Interpol will address the Board, which also expressed concern at attempts to legalize coca leaf production and consumption for non-medical purposes in some countries in the Andean sub-region.

The session’s agenda includes: the abuse of prescription drugs, such as those containing controlled substances, in particular in North America and Europe; counterfeit medicines and the sale of controlled substances through the Internet; and a review of global trends in drug abuse and trafficking, with recommendations on actions to improve international control.

INCB’s 13 members are elected by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to serve in their individual capacities for a term of five years. Its sessions are closed to the public.

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