The South-East Asia Consultative Group on Narcotics Control

Abstract

Over a number of years, information presented by governments to the international bodies has indicated a large-scale narcotics problem in the region of South-East Asia. The region has an indigenous production of opium, which supports both a large amount of addiction within the region and a heavy traffic to other parts of the world. In recent years, illicit morphine and heroin production and heroin addiction have appeared on a significant scale. It has become clear that an opium problem which is not mastered can become transformed into a major morphine/heroin problem in the relatively short space of a few years. The realization of this latter danger on the one side, together with encouraging progress in work in the region on enforcement questions and treatment facilities for addiction on the other, was considered to make an exchange of experience useful and timely.

Details

Pages: 37 to 38
Creation Date: 1961/01/01

The South-East Asia Consultative Group on Narcotics Control

Bangkok, December 1960

Over a number of years, information presented by governments to the international bodies has indicated a large-scale narcotics problem in the region of South-East Asia. The region has an indigenous production of opium, which supports both a large amount of addiction within the region and a heavy traffic to other parts of the world. In recent years, illicit morphine and heroin production and heroin addiction have appeared on a significant scale. It has become clear that an opium problem which is not mastered can become transformed into a major morphine/heroin problem in the relatively short space of a few years. The realization of this latter danger on the one side, together with encouraging progress in work in the region on enforcement questions and treatment facilities for addiction on the other, was considered to make an exchange of experience useful and timely.

The South-East Asia Consultative Group on Narcotics Control was arranged by the United Nations as part of the special supplementary programme of technical assistance in narcotics control provided for in General Assembly resolution 1395 (XIV). It met in Bangkok for two weeks in December 1960, with the Government of Thailand acting as host country. The group consisted of senior officials from Burma, Cambodia, Federation of Malaya, Hong Kong, Laos, Macao, Singapore and Thailand, nominated by their governments to participate as individual experts. Observers from the WHO and the ICPO also attended. Dr. H. A. Azarakah, Director-General, Department of Narcotics Control, Iran, and Mr. H. G. Christie, Canada, acted as consultants; and regional representatives of the FAO and WHO, as well as of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, participated in some of the discussions. During the meeting the Government of Thailand made arrangements for the group to visit (i) frontier areas and posts in the north of Thailand; (ii) an experimental settlement for hill tribes, and (iii) the Rangsit Centre for Addicts.

While the detailed proceedings of the group are, in accordance with the usual practice in technical assistance projects, confidential to the governments concerned, there are some points of general interest which arose at this meeting.

The meeting of the group was designed to examine the current situation as regard narcotics problems in this region, to explore what action was desirable and practicable to improve it, and to make suggestions for the consideration of governments. The group recognized that a complete anti-narcotics policy would comprise enforcement measures, facilities for treatment and rehabilitation of addicts; educational measures, and, in countries where there was cultivation of the opium poppy, appropriate social and economic, including agricultural, measures.

Under the heading of enforcement, the group discussed, among domestic questions, the co-ordination of enforcement services; policy of rewards to members of the enforcement services and of rewards to informers; intensification of control at seaports and airports as nodal communications ports, with special reference to the "ships' watch" system as developed in Hong Kong; and the various questions connected with training.

The discussion on international co-operation on enforcement in the region centred mainly round four topics: bilateral co-operation in control of land frontiers, joint arrangements to investigate the increasing morphine traffic, the scheme for the determination of the geographical origin of opium by physical and chemical methods, and the general question of the degree of institutionalization of regional co-operation in the region, including exchange of information. Special attention was given to the possibilities of frontier agreements.

Regarding treatment facilities, the group discussed the experience gained of the various facilities for this purpose already existing in the region; the significance for the region of the distinction between "social" or "accidental" addicts as compared with addiction associated with personality problems or defects; the medical approach to addiction; and the possibilities of training personnel for the treatment services both inside and outside the region itself.

The group considered that the social climate, or prevailing social attitudes to addiction and to the illicit traffic, was of first importance, especially in transitional periods when governments are trying to carry through reforms within a relatively short period. The use of various media, as well as the possibilities of utilizing various organized groups, suck as religious bodies, the medical profession, and voluntary organizations, were discussed.

As regards cultivation of the opium poppy, the group considered the scope of the problem in the region. In the Shan States of Burma, production for local consumption is legal. In northern Laos and in some other similar areas also, opium cultivation is part of the customary economic and social structure of some of the tribes, and administrative means of control are largely lacking, owing to lack of communications and the prevailing state of insecurity. Illicit opium also enters the region over the northern frontiers. The indigenous production of opium is at once the aspect of the problem on which least progress has been made and the most difficult to tackle, but also the essential long-term key to the regional programme as a whole. While this production lasts on anything like its present scale, measures in the other sectors, enforcement, treatment, education, etc., cannot be more than more or less successful containment actions. Further, they will remain extensive and costly operations for governments as long as large supplies of opium are available in the region, and the situation will remain subject to the danger of regression, and indeed of rapid regression. The group was in general agreement that, in spite of the very great difficulties, all encouragement should be given to governments to do as much as possible to initiate or extend action in this sense, in their own long-term interest as well as that of the international community. In this context, the group discussed the effect of certain schemes which some governments had initiated on broader policy grounds, notably resettlement of hill tribes (Thailand, Laos, Viet-Nam) and educational and welfare teams working in formerly unadministered territories (Burma); other relevant experience, particularly that of Iran; indications regarding the quantitative aspects of the problem, for which surveys would be required; and the extent to which the cultivators as compared with intermediaries in the opium traffic would be affected by changes in the agricultural economy. The group thought that it was not practicable to tackle the opium element in the situation in isolation. The level of living, and particularly the agricultural economy, of the tribes have to be developed as a whole, at the same time as elements of normal administration are progressively introduced. What is feasible and necessary is that, within this process, special attention should be given to the opium factor. Besides agricultural development, it was the view of the group that community development techniques, combining as they do work on the various sectors of economic and social development, might well play a most useful part. They could be readily combined with schemes for agricultural development, educational measures, and establishment or improvement of health and welfare services in the areas concerned. They could be particularly valuable in setting an example which might give rise to spontaneous emulation in neighbouring valleys and so expedite the whole process. It was felt, however, that the type and scale of assistance available under the existing programmes of technical assistance of the United Nations and specialized agencies, while useful as a beginning, were not commensurate with the magnitude of the effort that would be required to get a radical solution of the problem of opium cultivation under way. Indeed, if such initial work was not to lead to disappointment and frustration, it was necessary to predicate assistance on a large scale - at least on the scale available under the United Nations Special Fund.

The group discussed the standard forms of technical assistance, and made a number of suggestions as to country projects for consideration by the governments concerned. It also suggested that governments might wish to give consideration to a programme, over the next several years, of certain inter-country or regional projects, mainly (i) a study-tour of seaports and airports in the region; (ii) inter-country investigation of the morphine traffic; (iii) further meetings of "consultative groups" of senior officials to make suggestions on policy at appropriate intervals; (iv) regional training in connexion with ( a) enforcement work, ( b) treatment facilities; (v) an interregional - rather than regional - seminar on methods of treatment, organized by the World Health Organization.