Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1950


During its fourteenth session the Economic and Social Council, which is meeting in May 1952, will examine the Report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on the task accomplished in 1951.1 This report presents an over-all picture for 1950 of the production and consumption of narcotics, and of their licit traffic throughout the world, as it shown by the analysis of the statistics submitted to the Board by governments.


Pages: 36 to 41
Creation Date: 1952/01/01


Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1950

During its fourteenth session the Economic and Social Council, which is meeting in May 1952, will examine the Report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on the task accomplished in 1951.1 This report presents an over-all picture for 1950 of the production and consumption of narcotics, and of their licit traffic throughout the world, as it shown by the analysis of the statistics submitted to the Board by governments.

The reader will find below the main features exhibited by the Report of the Permanent Central Board


The Board believes that, if all the facts noted in regard to the control of narcotic drugs since the publication of its last report are considered, some improvement may be discerned. On the credit side, the following points may be noted:

  1. Co-operation by several governments in the Board's work has improved;

  2. Fourteen narcotic drugs, including twelve syn-thetics, have been placed under international control during the year 1951, under the provisions of the Protocol of 19 November 1948;

  3. A considerable illicit traffic in diacetylmorphine, which had its source in the licit supply of Italy, was discovered; the Italian Government has stated that appropriate action was being taken, and there is ground for hope that this source may presently dry up;

  4. The production of crude cocaine in Peru, which is the largest in the world, is now the subject of a State monopoly.

On the debit side, the most important factor remains the inadequacy of control over the production of opium and of coca leaves. Some of the biggest producing countries have never furnished the statistics which would have enabled the Board to supervise the movement of these substances from the time of production.

These defects seriously hamper the functioning of the present organization for the international control of narcotics.

1 For the Report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on its work in 1950 see vol. III, no 2 of the Bulletin on Narcotics.

As shown by the reports on "Illicit Transactions and Seizures" published by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, one of the consequences of this state of affairs is that opium continues to be the subject of a very considerable illicit traffic; and, given the fact that opium licitly exported by producing countries thereafter seldom leaves the licit market, there is ground for the conclusion that the illicit traffic in question has its origin in the producing countries, where much of the opium concerned probably never enters licit "circulation".

The Board is led to believe that the efforts made by governments to remedy this state of affairs, as also to avoid the dangers inherent to the appearance of numerous new narcotic drugs, should in the first place be directed especially towards improving and strengthening national controls.

The situation of the control in Italy has given rise to widespread criticism and anxiety owing to the escape from this country of diacetylmorphine into the illicit traffic. This view of the situation has now been confirmed by the fact that, whereas the stock of this drug in Italy, at the end of 1950 should be 306 kilogrammes, the Italian Government reported a stock of only 142 kilogrammes and declared that this disappearance of 164 kilogrammes was in course of investigation in the national territory and in the Free Territory of Trieste.

The Board has had this situation under review and asked the Italian Government that the stocks of diacetylmorphine held by manufacturers and wholesalers should be limited to an amount representing licit requirements for about eighteen months; that any surplus stock should be kept under the direct supervision of the Government; and that no new production should take place until this stock has fallen to the above-mentioned level.

In reply, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Italy stated that:

"...the Italian High Commissioner's Office for Hygiene and Public Health does not consider the production of alkaloids in Italy to have been generally excessive in the past, or to be so at the present time, as compared with production in other countries and considering the population of Italy.

"So far as concerns, in particular, the production of heroin, which has been the subject of comments by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, it is true that this has increased in recent years as compared with the pre-war period, higher consumption having been anticipated in view of the danger of tuberculosis spreading after the war.

"To prevent illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, control has been strengthened and the Italian police are now conducting large-scale investigations in collaboration with the United States police at Trieste - a town which, as has often been pointed out, is the focal point of the traffic in heroin.

"The Italian High Commissioner's Office for Hygiene and Public Health has already considered measures including, in particular, a new law on narcotic drugs laying down very strict rules with regard to the production of and trade in such drugs, and the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Co-ordination Committee comprising the High Commissioner's Office and the Ministries of the Interior and Finance, to be responsible for co-ordinating all information on illicit traffic and organizing its suppression on a national scale.

"These measures will undoubtedly yield substantial results, especially if the necessary controls are strengthened in the Free Territory of Trieste.

"For the time being, new production of heroin has been prohibited until the present stocks have been completely disposed of and supervision over the trade in that drug has been intensified."

* * *

The Board communicated with the Iranian Government, emphasizing the great importance for the international control that this country should supply statistics for raw opium. In reply, Iran has now, for the first time in the past seventeen years, sent these statistics, including those of stocks, so that it has been possible to strike a balance, for the year 1950, of the quantities available and disposed of. This balance, based on the previous stock, the production and the exports declared by the Iranian Government, should amount to 589,668 kilogrammes, whereas the stock in hand on 31 December 1950, as declared by this Government, amounts to only 256,321 kilogrammes.

Thus, according to the statistics supplied by the Iranian Government, a quantity of 333 tons of raw opium has disappeared.


It will be recollected that during the past three years the Permanent Central Board and the Supervisory Body pointed out that the per capita consumption of diacetylmorphine in certain countries "had increased and was very high, although the 1931 Conference recommended the abolition or restriction of the use of this particularly dangerous drug".

The following table shows the consumption per million in recent years, as compared with 1936, in the six countries which have been particularly mentioned by the - Board and Supervisory Body as having a markedly high consumption:

Consumption of diacetylmorphine per million inhabitants


1936 (kg)

1946 (kg)

1947 (kg)

1948 (kg)

1949 (kg)

1950 (kg)

698 25.54 17 67 38 15 16 93 5.2
3.4 2.71 5 4.26 4.16 2.31
New Zealand
0.64 4.54 3.33 2.72 2.13 1.04
2.56 2.83 4.12 1.88 2.02 2.29
2.67 2.42 3.3 4.68 4.3 4.52
United Kingdom
1.1 1 91 1.87 2 18 2.71 2.27

The Board and the Supervisory Body were glad to note the decreases which emerge from this table, particularly in the case of Finland, hoping that the efforts made in this country to replace diacetylmorphine, whenever possible, by less dangerous products will achieve further reductions of the consumption of this drug. In Australia, where the competent authorities are following a similar policy, the increased consumption in 1950 should be followed by a decline in subsequent years.

The Board and the Supervisory Body were gratified to learn that the manufacture, trade and use of diacetylmorphine will be prohibited in Switzerland - except in the unlikely event of a referendum - beginning with January 1952. This is all the more significiant in that Switzerland has in the past manufactured diacetylmorphine not only for its domestic use, but also for export. The Board and the Supervisory Body also noted with approval that in their estimated requirements of narcotic drugs for 1952, a number of countries or territories have for the first time omitted diacetylmorphine.


Up to the beginning of 1951, international control exercised under the Conventions of 1925 and 1931 covered a score or so of narcotic drugs: opium, coca leaves, Indian hemp and the drugs derived from the first two of these. They are the narcotic drugs which could be described as "natural". During the year 1951 twelve synthetic narcotic drugs were brought under the provisions of the 1931 Convention by virtue of the Protocol of 19 November 1948.

Synthetic narcotic drugs made their appearance not more than about a dozen years ago; however, the manufacture and utilization of certain of them have expanded so rapidly that the problem of controlling these drugs has become acute. It will be sufficient to state, in support of this assertion, that the licit consumption of one of them - pethidine - the effects of which are similar to those of morphine, quantitatively exceeds morphine consumption; and to note, so far as illicit utilization is concerned, the statement by some national authorities that pethidine, in certain regions, is the drug used in 28 per cent of drug-addiction cases, and that most morphine addicts have now switched to methodone (another synthetic narcotic drug) just as they did before to pethidine.

The adoption of the Protocol of 19 November 1948 and the placing of synthetic narcotic drugs under international control by virtue of that instrument were merely the preliminaries of any national or international action to counter the improper use of those drugs. Under the present organization of the control, the success of such action will depend primarily on the competent national authorities. Only they, indeed, can assume the responsibility for determining the medical and scientific requirements of their respective countries, the volume of supplies (manufacture, imports, stocks) to cover those requirements, and for exercising supervision over the use made of those supplies; medical practitioners carry a certain responsibility in ensuring that drugs are properly prescribed.

The following are, in the Board's opinion, the first steps which governments should take - if they have not already taken them - to enable their appropriate services to perform this function:

  1. All synthetic narcotic drugs, immediately on their appearance, should be made subject to the domestic legislation governing narcotic drugs.2 At the date of the present report, this elementary precaution had not yet been adopted by all countries.

  2. They should accede to the Protocol of 19 November 1948 without delay. At the date of the present report, only thirty-four States were Contracting Parties to that instrument.

  3. They should only employ, as the customary names for those drugs, the international non-proprietary names given them by the World Health Organization in its International Pharmacopoeia (e.g., pethidine, for the hydrochloride of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-piperidine-4-carboxylic acid ethyl ester; methadone, for 4, 4-diphenyl-6-dimethylamino-heptanone-3). This suggestion should invariably be followed in national pharmacopoeias, faculties of medicine, medical prescriptions, labels on packages, import and export licences, relevant national and international statistics and estimates, etc. At the present time, some governments are furnishing the Board with separate estimates and statistics for pethidine, demerol and dolantin, presumably because they do not realize that these are different names for one and the same drug, already known by more than thirty names.

  4. The measures for the repression of clandestine manufacture should be strengthened, for this manufacture is perhaps easier in the case of synthetic narcotic drugs than in that of "natural" narcotic drugs. Indeed, the raw materials for synthetic narcotic drugs are not themselves narcotics and are used for many other purposes, so that their movement cannot be controlled in the same way as that of opium and the coca leaf - the raw materials for "natural" narcotic drugs.

2 In that connexion, the Expert Committee on Habit-forming Drugs of the World Health Organization made an important recommendation at its first session (January 1949): "that provision should be made in any new convention whereby substances of a particular chemical type, analogues of which had been proved to be abit-forming, could be placed under control until such time as they are shown not to be habit-forming". (document WHO/HFD/9/Rev. 1)


This chapter sets forth the most significant facts regarding the trends in the licit movement of narcotic drugs during 1950. It forms, as it were, a sequel to the similar chapters in the preceding reports of the Board.

The statistics for 1950 supplied by governments to the Board under the international conventions of 1925 arid 1931 were not yet complete. The extent to which the gaps affect the analysis which follows varies from substance to substance, and will be mentioned in the relevant paragraphs.

A. Raw materials
(1) Opium

Two important opium-producing countries, India and the USSR, did not yet report their 1950 production figure. It was therefore impossible to determine the volume reached by the world production this year.' But, on the strength of the information supplied by other producing countries, it would seem that the downward trend noted for 1949 did not continue in 1950:

Production of raw opium


1948 tons

1949 tons

1950 tons

342.2 220
380.2 10 4 184 8
21.3 199.6 480 9
75 76
21 5 0 5 19 2
4.4 0 7
Other countries
844 7 507.2 685 1

The amount of raw opium used for the manufacture of morphine was probably greater in 1950 than in 1949, considering that the figures of the USSR and India were not yet available for 1950:

Raw opium used for the manufacture of morphine


1948 tons

1949 tons

1950 tons

In. opium-producing countries
96.5 85.7 6.8
In other countries
343.5 325.4 364.3
440 411.1 371.1

Assuming that the volume of this manufacture in the USSR and India was the same in 1950 as in 1949, the total amount of opium utilized for this purpose in 1950 would be 445.9 tons.

The amounts of opium shown in the above table produced 48 tons of morphine in 1948, 46.4 tons in 1949 and 43.1 tons in 1950, a yield of 10.9 per cent, 11.3 per cent and 11.6 per cent, respectively. In addition, morphine was manufactured from poppy straw (see below).

The only information of some importance supplied to the Board regarding prepared (smoking) opium with respect to the years 1949 and 1950 is as follows:

Prepared (smoking) opium



Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (Indo-China)


1949 tons

1950 tons

1949 tons

1950 tons

Production of prepared opium
Raw opium used for this purpose
Consumption of prepared opium
9.7 10.2

The Board offered no comment on this matter, as it lies outside its field of competence.

(2) Poppy straw

This raw material of morphine is not covered by the international conventions on narcotic drugs. Most of the countries employing it, however, declare to the Board the amounts used in manufacture and the amounts of morphine thus produced. These amounts of morphine were 8.1 tons in 1948, 10.1 tons in 1949 and 10.9 tons in 1950. The figures relating to 1949 and 1950 do not include production in Czechoslovakia, this country not yet having reported it.

(3) Coca leaves and crude cocaine

So far as the Board was aware, there are at present four countries which produce coca leaves: Bolivia, Colombia, Indonesia and Peru. Only two of them, Colombia and Indonesia, declare their production figure (in 1950:218 and 9.3 tons respectively); they are not the largest producers.

In addition, Peru, also a manufacturer of cocaine (chiefly crude cocaine), has not yet declared either the amount of coca leaves used in 1950 for this manufacture (in 1946-1949: an average of 136 tons per annum) or the amount of crude cocaine obtained (in 1946-1949: an average of 870 kilogrammes per annum). It is impossible, therefore, to calculate the corresponding world totals.

The Board was no better informed as to the amounts of coca leaves consumed (chewed) in two important coca-leaf producing countries - namely, Bolivia and Peru. In Colombia, the responsible authorities have declared that the amounts so consumed came to 180 tons in 1948, 170 tons in 1949 and 148 tons in 1950. Argentina is the only country not producing coca leaves in which the leaves were consumed in that manner: 181 tons in 1948, 313 tons in 1949 and 241 tons in 1950, imported from Bolivia and Peru.

In 1950, four cocaine-producing countries, the USA, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, together produced 1,163 kilogrammes of the drug, or 90 per cent of the world production that year; they imported the necessary raw materials: the USA coca leaves, and the other three, countries crude cocaine. The amounts of raw materials used in 1950 for manufacturing cocaine in those countries are as follows:

Coca leaves:

USA 130 tons

Crude cocaine:

United Kingdom 254 kilogrammes

France 104 "

Germany 184 "

Lastly, the amounts of coca leaves used in the USA for the preparation of non-narcotic coca-flavoured beverages fell from 129 tons in 1947 to 6 tons in 1948 and nil in 1949 and 1950.

(4) Indian hemp

This plant is the basis of medicinal preparations which are not Widely used (some 600 kilogrammes a year), and present no important problem. It is also the basis of non-medicinal products consumed by addicts in several parts of the world under the names of hashish, marihuana, charas, ganja, etc. The statistics to be supplied to the Board under the Convention of 1925 relate only to imports, exports, confiscations effected on account of illicit imports and exports, and also to the consumption and stocks of medicinal preparations. The Board, considering that such information depicts only a negligible part of the movement of these substances, has always refrained from commenting on it; the figures will be shown in the addendum to the Board's report to be published two or three months after the report itself.

B. Manufactured drugs
(1) Morphine

It is not at present possible to determine whether the steady increase in world production of morphine that has taken place in recent years continued in 1950, since the annual statistics of the USSR and Czechoslovakia are not yet available. Very probably, however, it has done so. Those two countries apart, 53.9 tons of the drug were produced in the world in 1950, as against 49.6 tons in 1949, an increase of 8.7 per cent. The production of the USSR was 7 tons in 1949, and that of Czechoslovakia 0.9 tons in 1948 (the 1949 production has not been reported). Assuming that the volume of production in those two countries was the same in 1950, the world total for this year would be 61.8 tons. That would be a new record, the highest figure previously recorded being 56.6 tons in 1949.

The upward trend did not appear in all producing countries; in some there was a pronounced decrease. The most considerable increases and decreases were as follows:

Production of morphine




1949 tons

1950 tons



(i) Increase:
United States
15.2 19.8
United Kingdom
10.6 11.1
3.6 6.4
(ii) Decrease:
6.4 5.9 0.5
2.9 0.4 2.5
1.5 1 0.5

Morphine production figures, and figures for its conversion into other substances throughout the world, always follow a common trend, since the greater part (91 per cent) of morphine produced is so converted. The total world figures - the USSR and Czechoslovakia excluded - for morphine used for conversion rose from 45.4 tons in 1949 to 49.1 tons in 1950, an increase of 8 per cent. Assuming that the amounts used for conversion purposes in the two countries excluded were the same in 1950 as in 1948 or 1949, the world total for 1950 under this head would be 56.2 tons, a new record. Manufacture of codeine continued in 1950 to account for the greater part (85 per cent) of the morphine produced, and thus to be the determining factor in morphine production as regards both volume and trend.

The world total of morphine not subsequently converted into other drugs (i.e., of morphine available as such), excluding the figures for the USSR and Czechoslovakia, has remained more or less the same in 1950 as in 1949 (about 5 tons).

(2) Diacetylmorphine

With one exception, Czechoslovakia, all the countries engaged in licit manufacture of diacetylmorphine during the past five years have declared their production figures for this drug in 1950. The total thus declared for the whole world is 453 kilogrammes (the absence of Czechoslovak production figures is unlikely to affect the position, since the average annual figure over five years was less than 1 kilogramme). This total of 453 kilogrammes constitutes a decrease of 70 kilogrammes, or 13 per cent, compared with the total for the year 1949, and of 386 kilogrammes, or 46 per cent, with that for the year 1948.

(3) Dihydrohydroxycodeinone, dihydrocodeinone, dihydromorphinone, acetyldihydrocodeinone and methyldihydromorphinone

All the thirteen countries producing one or other of these drugs in the last five years have declared their 1950 production figures to the Board, with the exception-of Czechoslovakia (average production in that country during the last five years, was, however, less than 1 kilogramme). The amount manufactured in the world in 1950 (788 kilogrammes) is 163 kilogrammes lower than in 1949 and 178 kilogrammes lower than the highest production figure ever recorded (966 kilogrammes in 1948).

(4) Codeine

It is already possible, in spite of the absence of figures for the USSR and Czechoslovakia, to state that world production of this drug increased in 1950, as it had regularly done during the previous years. Production rose from 45.2 tons in 1949 to 48.9 tons in 1950, and the first figure, but not the second, includes production in the USSR. Assuming the latter to have reached the same volume in 1950 as in 1949 (5.3 tons), the world total for 1950 would come to some 54 tons. That would be a new record, the previous record being 45.2 tons in 1949.

(5) Dionine

Production of dionine, on the other hand, dropped from 4.7 tons in 1949 (record figure) to 2.2 tons in 1950. The first of these figures, but not the second, includes production in the USSR. Assuming the latter to have reached the same amount in 1950 as in 1949, the world total for 1950 would be 2.7 tons. That would be the lowest figure recorded in several years.

(6) Cocaine

World production of cocaine decreased from 1,596 kilogrammes in 1949 to 1,284 kilogrammes in 1950. It is thus the smallest recorded by the Board.40

According to the statistics supplied by the USSR, domestic cocaine production before the 1939-1945 war averaged about 270 kilogrammes a year and was used to meet the country's medical and scientific requirements. But since the end of the war, the USSR has reported no production of cocaine or its raw materials (coca leaves, ecgonine, crude cocaine) and no stocks of these substances.

(7) Synthetic narcotic drugs

Twelve synthetic narcotic drugs are at present subject to international control. One of them, pethidine (1-methyl-4-phenyl-piperidine-4-carboxylic acid ethyl ester in the form of the hydrochloride), is now used almost everywhere in the world as a substitute for morphine. It is only since March 1951 that synthetic narcotic drugs fall under the Convention of 1931, and not many statistics on the subject are yet available to the Board.

But even on the strength of very incomplete figures, it emerges that the licit production and consumption of pethidine are now larger than those of morphine (in terms of weight, if not of therapeutical potency), and, of course, this trend would be more marked if all the countries which have supplied statistics for morphine had also supplied them for pethidine.

Production of morphine as such and pethidine


Morphine as such (Kg.)

Pethidine (Kg.)

1947 6,532 6,533
1948 5,838 5,512
1949 4,942 6,659
1950 4,805 7,423

Attention, however, should be drawn to the fact that the therapeutic potency of these two drugs is not the same. For example, it has been estimated that it takes from five to ten times as much pethidine to achieve the same analgesic effect as with morphine.

On the other hand, the use of another synthetic narcotic drug, methadone (4,4-diphenyl-6-dimethylamino-heptanone-3), which, two years ago, seemed to be gaining ground, is now decreasing. In the United States, for example, consumption of this drug fell from 1,397 kilogrammes in 1949 to 207 kilogrammes in 1950.

The utilization of the other ten synthetic narcotic drugs seems to be still very limited (or even nil, for some of them), perhaps because their appearance is much more recent than that of pethidine and methadone.


As can be seen from the foregoing paragraphs, the Board still lacks for 1950 certain statistics which are so important that it is impossible to calculate world production during that year of any one of the narcotic drugs subject to international control; the same difficulty exists with regard to other items - consumption, for example.

As far as opium and coca leaves are concerned, this situation is by no means new. It must be attributed to the fact that in certain countries the control of production and consumption of those substances is almost non-existent and that the national authorities concerned have never been in a position to establish, with any degree of accuracy, the statistics provided for under the 1925 Convention.

In the case of "manufactured drugs", on the other hand, the gaps observed seem to be due to the unpunctuality of the governments of certain countries - generally the same ones year after year - rather than to any lack of control in those countries.

In spite of the absence of some important statistics of these drugs, the following trends are to be observed. The production of morphine and codeine continued to increase in 1950 and, without a doubt, reached a record figure during that year; on the other hand, the quantity of morphine produced for use as such - that is to say, excluding the morphine produced for conversion into other drugs - has remained stable during recent years. But allowance must be made for the fact that pethidine, a synthetic narcotic drug of almost world-wide use as a substitute for morphine since the end of the 1939-1945 war, is at present being turned out in quantities superior (in weight, though not in therapeutic potency), to the amount of morphine produced for use as such.

The production of a group of drugs comprising dihydrohydroxycodeinone, dihydrocodeinone, dihydromorphinone, acetyldihydrocodeinone and methyldihydromorphinone, which reached a record level in 1948, decreased slightly in 1949 and. markedly in 1950. The production of diacetylmorphine, cocaine and dionine also decreased in 1950 (for cocaine it was the lowest ever recorded by the Board).