Graft plagues global anti-narcotics efforts – UN panel

Melvyn Levitsky

2 March 2011 – Corruption is a major impediment in combating illicit drug trafficking, the independent United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide said today in its annual report, while also warning that the production of synthetic stimulants is growing.

The vast profits generated in the drug markets often exceed the financial resources of State institutions, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its report, adding that the criminal organizations with drug trafficking empires have in some cases become political forces with the power and authority of legitimate institutions.

The INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body mandated to implement United Nations international drug control conventions.

“By employing corruption and violence [drug traffickers] are able to avoid law enforcement, interdiction, eradication of drug crop and such things as extradition to jurisdictions that want to prosecute them,” Board member Melvyn Levitsky told reporters at UN Headquarters.

“Corruption plagues not only our area of drug control, it also weakens governments and institutions,” said Mr. Levitsky, who is also Professor of International Policy and Practice at the University of Michigan in the United States.

According to the report, so-called “designer drugs” such as mephedrone, which mimics the effects of cocaine, are being produced faster and in growing numbers. Detailed instructions for the manufacture of these synthetic drugs are often shared via the Internet, adds the report.

“Given the health risks posed by the abuse of designer drugs, we urge Governments to adopt national control measures to prevent the manufacture, trafficking in and abuse of these substances,” says Hamid Ghodse, the President of the Board.

On the other hand, licit drugs needed for medical treatment are not readily available in all parts of the world, the report says, noting that more than 80 per cent of the world’s population lack or has insufficient access to pain relief drugs.

While Western countries consume 90 per cent of the medicines on the market, many countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas have very little or no access to drugs for medical purposes, the report points out.

Barriers include lack of education of health professionals, regulatory constraints, difficulties in distribution, and the absence of a comprehensive health policy that includes pain treatment. The INCB urges Governments to take action, for example, by collecting statistical data on licit drug requirements, adapt legislation and improve education and training.

Drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico dominate the market for cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in the United States, according to the report, which also notes an increase in the abuse of all drugs, except cocaine, in the US in 2009.

In Mexico drug trafficking organizations responded with unprecedented violence to vigorous law enforcement measures by the Government to disrupt trafficking operations, the report says, adding that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related incidents in the country since 2006.

In 2009, the total area under coca bush cultivation in South America decreased for a second consecutive year, due to a significant reduction of that area in Colombia.

Among the other findings, the report notes that cocaine abuse is spreading in Europe, possibly replacing amphetamines and ecstasy as the drug of choice in countries such as Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In addition, heroin continues to be the primary drug of abuse in China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Viet Nam, with most countries in the region reporting declining or stable trends in heroin abuse, while South Asia has become one of the main regions used by drug traffickers to obtain the chemicals needed to produce synthetic drugs.


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