UN Drugs Chief Calls for Stronger Cooperation Frameworks and Attention to Health as Way Forward for International Drugs Policy
12 March - Stronger regional cooperation networks are vital for confronting the threat of illicit drugs, said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), at the opening of the 55th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which is meeting in Vienna from 12 to 16 March. "We face a transnational threat of extraordinary proportions that amounts to US$320 billion or some 0.5 per cent of global GDP," he stressed.
Ministers and anti-drug officials from the 53 CND Member States will consider issues of concern, including the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes and preventing the diversion of chemicals for the manufacture of illicit drugs. The CND is the central policy-making body within the United Nations system dealing with illicit drugs.
President Evo Morales of Bolivia explained that his Government was vigorously combating cocaine trafficking and had destroyed tons of the drug. He said his country needed more international assistance to combat the scourge, particularly with equipment and technology. However, Bolivia had decided to "denounce" (withdraw from) the 1961 Single Convention on illicit drugs to "correct a historical error" concerning the indigenous uses of the coca leaf. Bolivia will re-accede to the Convention if it included a "reservation" allowing the traditional consumption of coca leaf to continue, he said.
The Executive Director urged States to intensify prevention strategies as part of a comprehensive response to drug demand, supply and trafficking. "At present, the balance between our work on the supply and demand sides stays firmly in favour of the supply side. We must restore the balance. Prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration and health have to be recognized as key elements in our strategy," he said. "Overall, our work on the treatment side must be considered as part of the normal clinical work undertaken when responding to any other disease in the health system."
Mr. Fedotov exhorted States to recognize that drug dependence was an illness; evidence shows that treatment is more effective than repression in addressing a public health challenge that takes some 250,000 lives annually. He noted that children were vulnerable to the effects of drugs and to protect them it was important to use family-based prevention methods.
In this, the centenary of the signing of the International Opium Convention in 1912, the first legal instrument on drug control, the Executive Director said it was important to recognize the gains made over that time but more needed to be done. He said the international drugs conventions provided the best way to mitigate the negative effects of illicit drugs on individuals and communities, while ensuring that those in need can obtain life-saving medications.
Mr. Fedotov highlighted the regional initiatives being spearheaded by UNODC in the context of shared responsibility among drug-consuming and drug-producer nations to combat the security threats posed by illicit drug flows. UNODC has launched a Regional Programme for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries to help create a broad international coalition to combat opiate trafficking, opium poppy cultivation and production. Networks such as the Triangular Initiative between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre are being strengthened. The Office will soon launch a new Regional Programme for South Eastern Europe, which will focus on the "Balkan Route" of heroin.
Marking important progress in the exchange of information on transatlantic flows of cocaine, the Office has launched the Joint Airport Interdiction Task Force at Dakar airport, Senegal, which links 20 airports in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. The Office has also created Regional Hub in Central America and the Caribbean as a strategic alliance aimed at strengthening a consolidated response to organized crime.
Important as these initiatives are, tackling supply only was not the solution, according to the Executive Director. "Let me be clear: there can be no reduction in drug supply, without a reduction in drug demand, more should be done to address demand," he said.