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Statement at the 32 nd Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies for Asia and the Pacific

"A problem contained but not solved"


Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific Good morning everyone, and welcome to Bangkok, and - for those of you from outside Thailand - welcome to the land of smiles.

I would like to start this morning's proceedings by recognizing on the dais:

  • Excellency, Khun Kittipong Kittayarak, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government of Thailand
  • Excellency, Khun Krishna Polananta, Secretary-General, ONCB, Thailand
  • Distinguished Delegates
  • Colleagues from the UN - specifically my colleagues on the dais, Mr. Ian Munro, Chief of the Anti-Trafficking Section in UNODC Vienna, and
  • Ms. Joanne Greig, from the CND Secretariat in Vienna
  • Representatives of the media
  • Ladies and Gentlemen


I also bring you all greetings on behalf of the Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, and add his word of welcome to this 32 nd session of the HONLEA for Asia and the Pacific.

Explaining the role of the HONLEA

  • For colleagues who may be new to this process, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs - or CND - is the leading policymaking body of the United Nations in the area of international drug control.
  • It is also UNODC's governing body and is mandated to consider emerging policy issues.
  • The CND, has five subsidiary bodies, of which this HONLEA - the one responsible for Asia and the Pacific - is one.
  • These bodies were established by the Economic and Social Council to promote cooperation in drug law enforcement at the regional level. The HONLEAs identify policy and enforcement issues in their regions. They establish working groups to analyze the issues. And they then bring their reports and recommendations to the attention of their Member States and to the CND.
  • As many of you know, the Commission is convening a high-level segment at its 52nd session in March 2009, in Vienna. This event will conduct a global assessment of the implementation of the measures adopted by the General Assembly a decade ago - in 1998 at the 20th Special Session which addressed the World Drug Problem.
  • Thanks to the work initiated by the UNGASS in that year, we now have in place a set of important goals in all the key areas of international drug control.
  • Since the CND is taking place only a few short weeks from now, this HONLEA can convey to the CND an assessment of both emerging challenges in the region and new opportunities for cooperation.

Please, therefore, allow me to use the opportunity of addressing you this morning to share some perspectives on new and emerging threats which we must address.

Overall, we're making progress

First of all, although our subject is - by definition - gloomy, I think that we should nonetheless recognize the considerable progress we have made in drug control efforts worldwide in recent years. These have been amply illustrated in UNODC's latest World Drug Report, which was released in June of 2008.

In essence, we make - and document - the argument that international drug control efforts are working and that the world drug problem is being contained. As evidence of this trend, we conclude that for almost every kind of illicit drug - whether it be cocaine, heroin, cannabis or amphetamine type stimulants - there are signs of overall - I repeat "overall" - stability, whether we speak of cultivation, production or consumption.

Just last week, for example, we released the Opium Poppy Survey for Southeast Asia covering the latest growing season in 2008. This report showed that while cultivation had increased slightly over the previous growing season, overall production was down slightly for the same period.

What is more important, however, is that our region - u host to the notorious Golden Triangle - now has only a limited opium problem. A problem concentrated in just one region - Shan state - of just one country - Myanmar.

Moreover, instead of producing 1,800 tons of opium as we did in the early 1990s, we are producing "only" 424 tons of opium in 2008. And that instead of the region constituting half of the world's production as it did in 1990, we are now only producing 5%. This marks real progress.

Southeast Asia's opium poppy reduction successes have been built upon decades of successful alternative development work in rural communities. Some of those sitting in this room have been involved in achieving this success - success marked by the effective elimination of illicit opium production in Viet Nam (in 2000) and Thailand (in 2003). In the year 2005, Lao PDR was declared opium-free. Until recently, Myanmar had also witnessed a continuous decline of opium production.

The encouraging poppy situation in our region is only one aspect of an overall containment of the world's drug problem. "Containment", however, does not mean that the world's drug problem has been solved. Or that we can become complacent. Nor is the good news universal. For progress made in some areas has been offset by negative trends elsewhere.

But problems remain: Opium Poppy Production in SE Asia

For example, as a result of a loss of opium-generated income, families which used to grow opium are now facing difficult living conditions - often with widespread food shortages for several months of the year. As I stressed to the media last week, with high levels of poverty, the recent rapid increase in the price of raw opium and an absence of development alternatives or effective law enforcement, there is a high risk that these communities will revert to opium poppy cultivation

However, overall, we seem to have reached a point where the world drug situation has stabilized and has been brought under control. For this reason, we must keep our eye firmly fixed on our objective if we are to maintain and consolidate these gains.

But Problems remain: Afghanistan

The first and gravest drug cultivation problem the international community faces is in Afghanistan. Production from that country is so large that countries as far apart as China and Australia are feeling the impact of the heroin derived from its poppy plants. And although cultivation fell there in 2008 by almost 20% to 157,000 hectares, the country still accounts for over 90% of world supply of illicit opium. So, again, unless there is greater and faster delivery of international development assistance, we will fail to consolidate the gains we have recently made in significantly increasing the number of Afghan provinces which are poppy-free. Our efforts must therefore aim to do absolutely everything that we can to support the difficult and often dangerous work which our counterpart national authorities in Afghanistan are having to undertake, as they attempt to get on top of this problem.

But Problems remain: ATS

  • I now turn to a pressing drug control problem closer to home in our own region. That of amphetamine-type stimulants - or ATS.
  • Our region, with its huge population and growing levels of affluence is now driving the demand for ATS worldwide.
  • Nearly 55% of the world's ATS users (or 14 million people) are estimated to be in Asia. Most of them are methamphetamine users in both East and SE Asia.
  • By comparison, we can measure that in Europe and North America, the demand has stabilized, and in some places it is even in decline.
  • We can also identify the population groups which are most affected by ATS abuse - especially methamphetamine. They are primarily young people who live in cities. Users also tend to be those workers who are engaged in the transport, fishing and commercial sex industries.
  • Many use ATS to cope with long hours of labour, a direct result of the region's economic boom.
  • The ATS market has different characteristics from traditional opiates. Manufacturing can take place anywhere which has easy access to precursor chemicals. Law enforcement has greater difficulty interdicting product because the demand chain and the supply chain is so close.
  • Currently, five countries in the region - Brunei, Cambodia, Lao, the Philippines and Thailand - report ATS as their primary drug of abuse. It is number two in most of the other countries. Specifically, the abuse of crystalline methamphetamine (or "ice") - which is increasingly injected - has been reported in almost all countries of the region.
  • Due to its low cost, its high availability and its addictive potential, ATS thus represents a major challenge to national health authorities and their drug-prevention efforts. The trend towards injecting crystal meth also has severe implications for the spread of Hep C and HIV as well.
  • In conclusion on ATS, this recent upsurge in consumption poses a serious threat to human security. And to public health. And thus to human development in the region.


  • In this context, even developments which we thought would have only benign effects may have a darker - worrying - side.
  • We will witness in the coming few years, the full impact of major infrastructure corridor developments and trade facilitation initiatives in this region. Aside from the positive consequences of such road and rail and port expansion, these trends will also see greater linkages between zones which are known to produce ATS and the major ATS markets in the Greater Mekong Subregion. This will probably also increase the volume of illicit trafficking and strain the limited police and customs resources. This is a phenomenon which my office is currently reviewing and on which we will share findings shortly.

Treating ATS

  • Of perhaps equal concern is the fact that we only have a limited knowledge of how to treat ATS drug abuse in our region.
  • And if I may be allowed a little licence to deviate from the key point at hand, I would like to reiterate that public health - the first principle of drug control, and the original cause of why the nations of the world met exactly 100 years ago in Shanghai to hammer out the world's first agreement on international drug control - public health must be brought back to centre stage. Drug dependence is an illness. And it must be treated as an illness like any other.
  • We need to devote more resources to prevent people from taking drugs in the first place.
  • We need to treat those who are dependent.
  • And we need to reduce the adverse health and social consequences of drug abuse, especially injecting drug users and their partners.
  • Treatment in the region tends to be grounded on compulsory treatment centres managed by law enforcement agencies. The few community-based treatment centres which do exist are also often under the jurisdiction and control of the national drug control agencies. We need to assess the efficacy of such approaches measured in terms of relapse rates and consider possible alternatives to closed drug treatment centres. And we need to consider our approach in the light of our findings.

Potential role for UNODC in DLE

  • Meetings of the HONLEAs also tend to assume great importance and value for those of us who work on the ground in UNODC.
  • One immediate and practical impact they have is that they directly influence the development of our projects and our technical assistance programmes in the field.
  • In all of this, the strategy of the UNODC Regional Centre, which I am privileged to lead, is therefore fairly straightforward.
    • Firstly, we will respond to the requests of our member states to provide specialist law enforcement training using intelligence-led and evidence-based policing.
    • Secondly, we will help promote networking among law enforcement and prosecutorial systems.
    • And thirdly, we will try to improve the quality of the data and analysis upon which decisions and policy are made.
  • Beyond this, we will work in two so-called non-traditional areas.
    • The first will be to try to mainstream law enforcement concerns with relevant stakeholders in light of the enormous infrastructure developments in the region, especially the Greater Mekong Subregion. This means drawing to the attention of governments, as well as the key international financial institutions and development partners these risks so that they can be factored into the planning process.
    • Secondly, UNODC will make every effort to attune law enforcement to the importance of promoting "harm reduction" methods in the treatment of chronically dependent injecting drug users whose lifestyles require stabilization if they are to reduce the risk they pose to themselves and others in terms of spreading HIV.
  • All of the above five elements - the traditional three plus two new ones - are contained in our new Regional Programme Framework to which many of you have contributed with your ideas and suggestions.


  • From this HONLEA, then, I look forward to learning about your own perspectives on the trends which you see emerging and your ideas on how to play a role in the containment exercise which - following Shanghai in 1909 - the international community has done so much to deliver upon.
  • For, ultimately, our goal is to protect our communities. And we can do so by advancing the rule of law. For although the rule of law is not one of the Millennium Development Goals, it is the key to achieving all of them.
  • Where rule of law is weak or absent, crime and corruption hold back development and participatory government.
  • At the same time, we must help to heal those who have been broken by drug abuse. For one addicted migrant can destroy the livelihood of an entire family.

Overall conclusion? Containment has generally worked. But much remains to be done.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

  • Let me end by urging that we continue to identify areas where we can enhance regional drug law enforcement cooperation.
  • Let us also highlight new initiatives and best law enforcement practices.
  • Let us promote modern rights-based and evidence-based law enforcement approaches as well as practical procedures to combat illicit drug trafficking and cross-border crime.
  • And - finally - let us use this HONLEA meeting to build upon the achievements of international drug control which we have registered to date.

On behalf of the Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, I wish all of us fruitful deliberations and a successful meeting.

Thank you.