1/3/2005
Press Briefing


Press BRIEFING BY INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS CONTROL BOARD

 


The International Narcotics Control Board was concerned about the growing percentage of opium being processed into heroin within Afghanistan, member Melvin Levitsky said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.


Launching the Board’s annual report for 2004, he said that meant that the more expensive end-product was being produced by people in that country commonly referred to as warlords, but who were actually drug lords, who had set up their own special operation and were challenging the authority of President Hamid Karzai.  The Board was concerned because the flow of drugs coming out of Afghanistan was immense even by comparison with the large amounts seen in the 1980s and 1990s.  Most of the supply went to Europe, with a flood of it passing through the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Turkey and the Balkans.


Another area of concern was Africa, where there had been an increase in drug abuse internally, which was dragging down development efforts.  More cocaine was being trafficked via South America through Africa and into Europe, where the drug lords were trying to make a market.  Many African governments lacked the institutional capability to deal with the problem, and the Board supported fully any assistance that could be provided to them.


A relatively new area of concern involved the ability to buy controlled drugs at so-called Internet pharmacies, he said.  Some of those substances were fake and, therefore, dangerous; others were controlled and were used by people to feed their own habits or to sell on the open markets.  It was a very difficult area for the world to control because it involved balancing issues of access to and freedom of information and the necessity to control dangerous products or activities marketed over the Internet.  Governments, pharmaceutical companies and Internet service providers must find ways to deal with that problem, which was exacerbated by the fact that no prescriptions were required and age was not respected, thereby exposing children to addictive and harmful products.


Another area of concern involved harm reduction, he said.  While the Board supported the idea of reducing harm, it believed that trying to get people off drugs worked better than providing injection rooms, distributing needles without controls or other programmes that did not aim to bring people in for treatment, which would be the greatest contribution towards dealing with such problems as HIV/AIDS.  The Board urged countries to be very careful not to spread the message that drugs could be made safe, which would further exacerbate the spread of the pandemic around the world.


On a positive note, he said that the Dutch Government had indicated that it could reduce the number of “coffee houses” selling marijuana, some of which were located close to schools.  Another positive feature of the report was an emphasis on the need to integrate and balance the attention paid to supply and demand.  Supply created its own demand and demand attracted supply to a very high degree.


Asked whether the Board had targeted the social aspects of United States retirees buying drugs that they could not afford, via the Internet, from Canada or the Virgin Islands, he said such problems were for governmental authorities to deal with.  The Board’s focus was on the ability of people of any age to be able to buy drugs rather easily without prescription.  It was hard to track down the various web sites, some of which might be offshore while others were up for just a few days in which they could obtain credit card information and make some money.


Another correspondent asked whether donor countries were resistant to providing the funding for alternative livelihood programmes for opium growers.


Mr. Levitsky replied that it was not so much a matter of funding as one of control and security.  Many farmers would prefer not to be under the hold of the drug lords who forced them to grow the drugs for what amounted to a pittance compared to the eventual drug profits.  Alternative livelihood programmes were not terribly expensive, and once the cultivation areas were under government control with some kind of rural extension service in place, it would be possible to institute the right kind of crops and activities.  But in the absence of law enforcement and control, alternative development would not work because the drug lords would be able, through force and blandishment, both to outgun and outspend the government.


Asked how much the illegal drug trade was worth worldwide, he replied that it probably generated about $1.5 trillion in illegal income.  The United Nations estimated that there were approximately 200 million current drug users, or those who had used drugs in the past month.  In addition, there were casual users who might do it once in a year.


In response to the same journalist’s question about which countries were the hardest-hit, he said drug abuse was so high in some countries that it became a real social problem.  For example, Pakistan had no opium and heroin addicts in the 1970s, but as the Afghan crop began to grow and Pakistan was increasingly used as a transit country, the number of Pakistanis who could be said to be addicts grew to approximately 1 million.


That figure was greater than the estimated number of heroin addicts in the United States, a country with perhaps three times the population, he said.  In Europe, heroin was the drug causing the greatest problem, whereas cocaine was the equivalent in the United States, where the number of heroin addicts had dropped by about half since the 1980s.  However, heroin was a real problem for countries like Afghanistan, where the black market in opium and heroin outpaced the gross domestic product, making it all but impossible for the Government to exert its sovereignty and have social and agricultural programmes in growing areas where there where also severe security problems.


Asked which African counties were the most affected, he replied that with its large population, Nigeria had always provided the couriers that the drug lords used to ferry the drugs, sometimes by swallowing the condom-wrapped product, while using valid visas to cross international borders legally.  More recently, a connection had developed between Rio de Janeiro, the jump-off point for cocaine produced in Colombia, and South Africa.


Ten of the Board’s 13 members are nominated by MemberStates and the remaining three by the World Health Organization (WHO) before their election by the Economic and Social Council.  While they may be nominated by their own countries, they are not country representatives and serve in their personal or expert capacity.  The Board provides information on illegal substances, as well as controlled but legal and medically useful drugs.  Although independent, the Board was established under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).  It is served by the Organization’s Vienna secretariat, where it meets three times a year.


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