Fact Sheet No. 3


United Nations General Assembly
Special Session on the World Drug Problem

New York, 8-10 June 1998


Long recognized as a group of psychoactive medicines prescribed to treat many different conditions, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are a major factor in international drug control. Certain characteristics of the ATS, such as simple and flexible manufacturing techniques, readily available raw materials, high profit margins for producers and low prices for consumers, provide the means and incentive for expansion of illicit markets.

ATS substances most frequently abused and sold illicitly include methamphetamine, amphetamine, ecstasy (MDMA) and methcathinone, which are mainly manufactured in clandestine laboratories, together with fenethylline and pemoline, which are diverted from legitimate trade.

Effects of ATS

The attractiveness of amphetamine-type substances to users clearly results from their effect on the central nervous system which produces an increase in mental activity, exhilaration, euphoria, and a general feeling of well-being and increased energy levels.

As discussed in the 1997 Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), there is also increasing demand for weight reducing tablets (anorectics), which contain ATS and are being promoted and marketed as wonder drugs for instant weight loss. In its report, the Board calls on countries with high consumption of anorectics to monitor the situation closely to guard against over-prescription of these drugs, as they are addictive and have a number of other adverse health effects ranging from high blood pressure to paranoia and violent behaviour.

All these substances can seriously affect the psychological and mental state of the user. They cause dependence and carry an addiction risk which is as high as that of cocaine. They also lead to increasing tolerance levels, requiring ever-higher doses to achieve the same mood-elevating effects. Fading of the initial euphoria may give way to anxiety, paranoia, or amphetamine psychosis, which often causes aggressive and violent behaviour.

Injecting methamphetamines ("speed") or smoking them ("ice") are the most addictive ways of administering this drug. They are also the most popular because of the rapid onset of effects. The duration of the stimulant effect of amphetamine-type substances is generally longer than that of cocaine. This offers more value for money and thereby constitutes a large potential market.

Patterns Of Abuse

Though the categories and types of measurement may be different, amphetamine-type stimulants range from first to third place among the most frequently abused drugs in a number of countries. In Japan, almost 90 per cent of all violations against drug control laws are related to methamphetamine. In the Philippines, where it is called "shabu", it has apparently become the most abused drug since the early 1990s. In Korea, "ice" abuse ranks second after cannabis. Similarly, in Australia, amphetamines are the second most frequently abused substances after cannabis.

In New Zealand, amphetamine abuse ranks third after cannabis and hallucinogens. Most surveys in the UK suggest that amphetamine abuse occupies second or third place. The United States National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that the rate of annual abuse of all stimulants, including legal ones, among twelfth grade high school students was as high as 7 per cent in 1992, making stimulants the most abused substances after inhalants and marijuana. In Sweden, amphetamine is the second most abused drug after cannabis, accounting for almost one third of all drug-related convictions in the early 1990s.

Historically, the illicit demand for amphetamine-type stimulants has long been satisfied by diversion from legally produced supplies, often through medical over-prescription. With increasing awareness of the limited therapeutical usefulness of these substances, the continuing decline in global licit manufacture and consumption, and the subsequent strengthening of control measures, clandestine manufacture has gradually become the major source of supply. Two factors have further supported this increase in illicit production: the number and simplicity of synthetic methods to manufacture the end product and the easy access to a variety of potential starting materials (precursor chemicals). Similar to the situation of the stimulant end-products, there have also been major shifts with regard to the clandestine use of certain precursors over the past 15 to 20 years.

"Ice" entered the American market from Hawaii and spread to the West Coast in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mainly through distribution by Asian drug trafficking groups. Today, "ice" is still centred on Asian-American communities and plays only a secondary role compared to traditional methamphetamine abuse. However, "ice" has not replaced crack/cocaine as the major drug of abuse as was feared in the early 1990s.

Nevertheless, the general situation concerning methamphetamine remains serious, particularly in view of the fact that methamphetamine laboratories account for more than 80 per cent of all clandestine laboratories detected in the United States during the 1990s.

In Europe, amphetamines form part of the range of so-called "dance drugs" (together with MDMA and LSD) which are a characteristic of the "rave scene" in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. A number of consumers of ecstasy (MDMA) have experimented and switched over to cheaper amphetamine. "Fake ecstasy", consisting of hallucinogenic material mixed with amphetamine, is also sold in this market. In the UK, amphetamine seizures have increased four-fold since 1987. In France, seizures of ATS doubled between 1992 and 1993. In addition, increased abuse of ATS is reported from the Netherlands, Finland and Eastern Europe, particularly from the Baltic states and the Czech Republic.

Illicit ATS Market

Draft Action Plan

The Special Session will have before it a draft action plan for international cooperation against ATS and their precursors. The draft recommends action in five key areas: raising awareness, reducing demand, providing accurate information, limiting supply and strengthening the control system for ATS.

Raising Awareness

The problem of ATS, though relatively new in many countries, is growing quickly. It is rapidly changing in scope and geographical spread. Yet global awareness of it is limited and responses to it are heterogeneous and inconsistent.

The following steps are recommended:

Reducing Demand

ATS abuse is increasingly concentrated among younger people who often believe that ATS are safe and harmless.

To counter this trend, international bodies such as UNDCP and WHO should:

States should:

Providing Accurate Information

Information on illicit ATS has now become accessible to a large number of people through modern technology, such as the Internet. Recipes, ATS manufacturing techniques, and images of ATS as harmless drugs are all widely available.

It is recommended that consultation be initiated at the national, regional and international level, with representatives of the telecommunication and software industries to promote and encourage:

It is further recommended that States should:

Limiting Supply

The principal strategies for controlling the supply of ATS target trafficking, illicit manufacture and the diversion of the chemicals used in manufacturing (precursors). Many precursors have a wide range of licit industrial uses and form a part of legal international trade. Therefore the voluntary cooperation of industry must be secured to allow for effective monitoring.

It is recommended that competent authorities at the national, regional and international levels should:

To target clandestine manufacture of ATS, international, regional and national authorities should also:

Strengthening The ATS Control System

When applied to clandestinely manufactured ATS, the international drug control system reveals the following shortcomings: a cumbersome procedure for scheduling psychotropic substances, the novelty of the precursor control regime, and the different procedures for changing the scope of control in the international drug conventions. An effective control system must be fast, flexible and easily adaptable to new situations.

The draft recommends that international and regional organizations and States should:

For more information, please contact:

Sandro Tucci
United Nations International Drug Control Programme
Vienna International Centre, Room E 1448
P.O Box 500
A-1400 Vienna, Austria

Tel: (431) 21345-5629;
Fax: (431) 21345-5931

Bill Hass
Development and Human Rights Section
United Nations Department of Public Information
Room S-1040
United Nations Headquarters
1, United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017

Tel: (212) 963 0353/3771;
Fax:(212) 963 1186