Résumé of recent developments in the programme of opium research

Abstract

In the first issue of the Bulletin, there was an article on the possibility of using physical and chemical methods to determine the geographical origin of opium seized in the illicit traffic.1 When that article was written, an international programme of opium research to develop such methods had just begun. Although articles on technical aspects of this research have been published in later issues,2 there has been till now no summary of the programme's progress. The present brief notice is intended to fill this gap.

Details

Pages: 38 to 39
Creation Date: 1956/01/01

OFFICIAL

Résumé of recent developments in the programme of opium research

In the first issue of the Bulletin, there was an article on the possibility of using physical and chemical methods to determine the geographical origin of opium seized in the illicit traffic.1 When that article was written, an international programme of opium research to develop such methods had just begun. Although articles on technical aspects of this research have been published in later issues,2 there has been till now no summary of the programme's progress. The present brief notice is intended to fill this gap.

The opium research is founded on two resolutions adopted by the Economic and Social Council in 1948 and in 1949.3 The first invited the governments of opium-producing countries to furnish suitable samples of their opium, and asked all governments having the necessary laboratory facilities and experts to participate in such a programme, while the second empowered the Secretary-General to accept facilities offered to him by the United States Government for use as an opium distribution centre and to enable the Secretariat to carry out original research of its own, as well as to coordinate that of the other participants. In 1952, the Council broadened the terms of reference to cover all types of opium, including opium produced illicitly, by urging governments to furnish the laboratory with samples seized from the illicit traffic.4

The research has been jointly conducted by about forty scientists5 coming from approximately twenty countries and by a small unit in the Secretariat of the United Nations, under the general guidance of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The scientific basis of this work is that the physical and chemical characteristics of opium vary in accordance with the region where the poppy plant is grown and harvested for opium. These differences have been studied for a large group of samples of known origin, and the distinctive characteristics of each opium type have been noted.

1

"Determining the Origin of Opium ", Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 14, 19, 42-47

2

Vols. III, No. 2 (pp. 7-9, 40-41), IV, No. 1 (pp. 15-25), and V, No. 1 (pp. 8-14).

3

Resolutions 159 II C (VII) and 246 F (IX).

4

Resolution 436 F (XIV).

5

The nature of this work is set forth in the papers they have transmitted issued under the following symbols:

E/CN. 7/207, E/CN. 7/301; ST/SOA/SER.K/2, 3, 5-7, 10-11, 14-16, 18-20, 23-30, 32, 36-37, 39-40.

By 1953 the Council considered that the research had advanced to a point where consideration might be given to the possibility of applying the methods that had been developed on a practical basis. To secure the necessary technical guidance in this matter, the Council asked the Secretary-General to appoint a committee of three experts to evaluate the progress that had been made and to reach conclusions as to whether the methods were ready for practical application in the international sphere.6

The Committee, which was composed of Professor Axel Jermstad (Norway), Mr. P. S. Krishnan (India) and Dr. Lyndon F. Small (United States of America), met in March 1954 and concluded that further samples of opium were needed, but did not reach unanimous agreement on the important question of whether the methods were ready for practical application. One member felt that they were not yet sufficiently reliable, whereas his colleagues considered that the time had come for them to be tested on a small-scale, practical basis. All members of the Committee agreed that the Secretariat's part in the programme would be greatly facilitated if more ample laboratory facilities were made available.7

Since the Council concluded that further research was necessary, it requested the governments concerned to furnish clearly identified samples of opium from each of their producing districts for several successive harvests, as well as samples of opium produced from illicitly-grown plants or seized from the international illicit traffic.8 It instructed the Secretary-General to concentrate the laboratory work on further developing the opium research, particularly by increasing the number of analyses. Finally, it referred to the General Assembly the question of the establishment of a United Nations Narcotics Laboratory.9

In November 1954, the General Assembly decided that the laboratory should be set up at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in view of the fact that the Division of Narcotic Drugs was being transferred there.10 The laboratory is now ready for use. Its equipment will enable the Secretariat chemists to carry out regular chemical analyses as well as analyses by paper chromatography and paper electrophoresis. The laboratory also has a dark room and facilities permitting opium ash to be analysed by spectrographic and spectrophotometric methods.

In May 1955 the Commission adopted a resolution11 in which it reminded governments of their obligations under the 1931 Convention to report the origin of seized drugs, and recommended that reports on important current seizures of opium in the international illicit traffic submitted by governments under Article 23 of the 1931 Convention should contain a determination of origin based on physical and chemical methods. It invited governments to consider setting up their own facilities to work in conjunction with the United Nations Laboratory with a view to determination of origin by such examination. It also requested governments to transmit samples of this type of seizure to the Secretariat for similar origin determinations, and authorized the Secretary-General to arrange for such work to be done and to report on the results to the governments submitting the samples and to the governments of countries indicated in the reports as countries of origin.

6

Resolution 477 (XV).

7

The report of the Committee was circulated as document E/CN. 7/278.

8

Opium samples have been received from the governments of the following countries:

China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Guatemala, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Yugoslavia.

9

Resolution 548 D (XVIII).

10

Resolution 834 (IX).

11

E/2768, Annex B, Resolution I.