Work of the Permanent Central Opium Board in 1963


The annual report of the Permanent Central Opium Board to the Economic and Social Council on its work has been a regular item on the agenda of both the Council and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. On 2 March 1963, a new Board had started its five-year term of office, and on the 8th of the same month, the Opium Protocol of 1953 came into force. The Board took this occasion to review the narcotics problem in all its aspects. It called for the close co-operation of all international organs having functions relating to narcotic drugs.


Pages: 45 to 50
Creation Date: 1964/01/01

Work of the Permanent Central Opium Board in 1963

The annual report of the Permanent Central Opium Board to the Economic and Social Council on its work has been a regular item on the agenda of both the Council and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. On 2 March 1963, a new Board had started its five-year term of office, and on the 8th of the same month, the Opium Protocol of 1953 came into force. The Board took this occasion to review the narcotics problem in all its aspects. It called for the close co-operation of all international organs having functions relating to narcotic drugs.

This survey is of general interest since it does not deal only with the specific functions of the Board, but also with those within the scope of action of other international organs, in particular that of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organization.

The following are excerpts from the report: [ 1]

...To do full justice to [the coming into force of the 1953 Opium Protocol], it must be appreciated that it is the fruit of more than half a century of constant effort. Although for the past thirty years manufactured drugs have been subjected to effective national and international control under the 1931 Convention for limiting the Manufacture and regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, the control of an agricultural product such as opium presented difficulties of an infinitely greater complexity than manufactured substances, in that it involved the interests of large sectors of agricultural populations in several countries. The 1953 Protocol emerged by stages from the general ideas formulated in the International Opium Convention signed at The Hague in January 1912 and also embodied in the International Convention adopted, under the auspices of the League of Nations, by the Second Geneva Opium Conference of 1924/1925. The Protocol supplements and completes these earlier conventions and seeks for the first time to bring the cultivation of the 'opium poppy for the production of opium under a system of comprehensive international :control. This event is an important milestone in the history of international narcotics control. Furthermore, the Single Convention of 1961, to which, by 30 October 1963, twenty-two States had become parties, has the additional merit that when in force, it will apply full international control not only to the production of opium, but also to the cultivation of the coca bush and to that of the cannabis plant grown for the purpose of producing cannabis or cannabis resin.

The beginning of a new term

It may well be, therefore, that the Board's present term of office will coincide with the beginning of a new era of international narcotics administration. The Board has accordingly thought it appropriate in this report to review its particular responsibilities against the background of the problem of international narcotics control as a whole, to evaluate the successes so far obtained, to diagnose the weaknesses of the present system, to outline the problems which remain to be solved and to consider what methods might lead to better results.

Indeed, throughout the thirty-five years of its activity the Board has always been conscious that in carrying out its special functions under the narcotics treaties it must take a comprehensive view of the whole question of drug addiction, since only in this way can it make its due contribution to the concerted effort of governments and of the various international organs to solve the manifold problems of narcotic drugs.

Control of manufactured narcotic drugs

Measures of Control

It is perhaps not sufficiently realized that until 8 March 1963 the international narcotics regime provided for full control of manufactured drugs only and not of the primary agricultural products - namely, opium, coca leaves and cannabis - which in themselves are dangerous drugs and from which the manufactured "narcotic" drugs other than those prepared by fully synthetic processes are made. At the present moment coca leaves and cannabis are subject only to very limited measures of international control.

As the Board often stated in the past, the international regime governing manufactured narcotic drugs has undoubtedly been successful.

This regime embraces all phases of the drug trade: manufacture, wholesale and retail trade, import and export and consumption. It provides for administrative controls of all activities concerned with such drugs, by requiring governmental authorization (licences, permits, authorizations) of all relevant transactions, and, as a general principle, by not allowing the use of drugs without medical prescription. Each commercial transaction with all pertinent details must be recorded by the parties to it, and the medical prescriptions are required to be preserved by the pharmacists. Government organs are enabled, by sufficiently frequent inspections of records and stocks and by comparing the records of both parties to commercial interchanges, to discover diversions of narcotic drugs into illicit channels; and fraud has, in consequence, become risky and rare. All persons engaged in the drug trade are required to make periodic and detailed reports to the national control authorities which in their turn report to international organs. Thus national and international agencies can between them continuously supervise the drug situation throughout the world.

The estimate system administered by the Board and the Drug Supervisory Body facilitates the limitation of supplies of manufactured narcotic drugs to the quantities approximately needed to meet medical and scientific requirements. It thereby affords an additional safeguard against the diversion of licit supplies into illicit channels.


The purpose of the regime is the limitation of the use of manufactured narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes. The system of control instituted under the 1925 and 1931 Conventions can be said in fact to have succeeded in effectively limiting the use of legally manufactured narcotic drugs to such purposes. The reports received from governments by the Secretary-General indicate that at the present time there is hardly any significant diversion of such drugs for illicit use. Addicts are sometimes still able, on presentation of false or unjustified medical prescriptions, to obtain narcotic drugs for purposes not strictly justifiable on medical grounds, but broadly speaking illicit traffickers cannot obtain their drugs from licit sources and are obliged to have recourse to clandestine manufacturers.

As a result, on a worldwide view and taking into account the general increase in population, the relativeincidence of addiction to manufactured drugs has appreciably diminished since the beginning of international narcotics control. This conclusion is sup- ported by such figures of the number of addicts as exist and are susceptible to comparison. A few statistical data are also available on the legal consumption of narcotics in years preceding international control. Admittedly these cannot be readily compared with present-day figures. It is of course to be expected that legal per caput consumption should increase in the wake of economic and social advancement, the development of modern medical services and the establishment or strengthening of national health schemes. Nevertheless, so far at any rate as concerns the few countries for which consumption figures relating to the period prior to control exist and which at that time already had advanced medical services, comparison of these figures with present-day data adjusted to a common denominator of potency units shows that, despite these factors, licit per caput consumption has greatly decreased - in one particular country by approximately fifty per cent. It is accepted that in some countries a substantial part of the legal narcotics supplies had before World War I been used for the satisfaction of addiction.

As is well known, consumption of prepared opium for smoking has radically declined. Some of the territories, however, in which opium smoking was formerly practised on a large scale are now faced with a serious problem of addiction to manufactured drugs, notably morphine and heroin, and it would seem that in these territories addiction as such has not materially declined, but that one type of addiction has merely been replaced by another.

Need for Further Improvement of the Control of Manufactured Drugs

While the achievements in respect of legally manufactured narcotic drugs give cause for satisfaction, still further improvement and constant vigilance are needed.

In some countries measures are required to prevent the misuse of drugs sold by pharmacists. For example, as suggested by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, control might be tightened by insisting on the use of official forms for the prescription of narcotic drugs. Again, refilling of prescriptions should be forbidden except perhaps under very exceptional conditions, in which cases strict precautions should be taken to prevent misuse - for example, by the requirement that the narcotics should be bought only in the shop expressly named in the prescription. In a few countries it may also be necessary to revise the safeguards taken by the administration or by professional associations to prevent the prescription of narcotic drugs for other than legitimate purposes or in cases in which less dangerous or even non-narcotic drugs would suffice. In this connexion a valuable contribution might be made by medical schools.

Where countries do not for the time being possess the means of exercising fully effective control, they would be well advised not to embark on the manufacture of narcotic drugs. Otherwise, a great part of the achievements of half a century may be put in peril.

Continuing lacunae in narcotics control

In the more general aspect the society of nations cannot yet claim to have achieved the fundamental aims of the system of international narcotics control.


Despite the undoubted success of the international regime for manufactured drugs, the problem of addiction continues to be serious. Many millions of people habitually consume cannabis or coca leaves, and governments are not yet under treaty obligation to suppress the misuse of these substances. Most countries, however, have on their own initiative prohibited the consumption of cannabis for other than medical or scientific purposes and the remainder have taken, or plan to take, measures to this end. The incidence of addiction to manufactured drugs also continues to be high in large parts of the world.

Legal and Illegal Cultivation of the Opium Poppy

Control over the legal production of opium is not everywhere completely effective, and considerable quantities find their way from areas of licensed cultivation into the illicit traffic. Moreover, illegal production of opium is still prevalent over wide areas, and it is deeply disquieting that, according to some estimates, the quantities obtained therefrom by traffickers may even in the aggregate exceed the volume of world utilization for medical purposes.

Cultivation of the Coca Bush

Control over the cultivation of the coca bush does not exist in some important areas of production, and hardly anywhere is it fully effective. While the general situation is such as to give ground for grave concern, the Board nevertheless wishes to record its appreciation of the efforts made by Colombia, which has striven with some success to suppress cultivation of the coca bush in its territory, and by Peru, which in the face of great difficulties, and notwithstanding the absence of any treaty obligation, has initiated some useful measures of control.

The Cultivation of the Cannabis Plant

It must also be pointed out that large quantities of cannabis are illegally produced, and this despite the fact that most countries have either prohibited the production of this substance or have at least enacted legal provisions for control, which is not yet required by international law.

The Illicit Traffic

The most sombre part of the general picture is the thriving illicit traffic in narcotic drugs. It threatens the health of millions of people, and strains the resources of enforcement agencies; and in terms of administrative expenditure and economic loss it represents a heavy drain on world resources. The corruptive power which this traffic exerts on the moral character of private individuals, and sometimes of public officials, should also not be underrated.

The international illicit trade is well organized, sometimes even on an intercontinental basis; and this applies particularly to morphine and heroin. The Board acknowledges the efficiency and zeal shown by enforcement agencies of many countries in their fight against the illicit traffic; indeed, the successes they have achieved deserve the grateful recognition of all governments. Yet, despite these achievements, the aim of suppressing the illicit traffic is still far from being attained. The illegal trade in drugs has continued unabated in recent years; at best it has only been contained; and drug addiction continues to be a serious social problem in a number of countries. This is in fact not surprising and reflects no discredit on the enforcement services. Clandestine manufacturers have no great difficulty in procuring opium for the production of morphine and heroin; the smuggling of these products is relatively easy by reason of their small volume; and the accruing high profits explain the persistence of the traffickers in the face of increasing risks of severe punishment.

Lines of further progress


Prohibition of Non-medical Use

Yet the situation is by no means irremediable.

First, the gaps in the existing system of control should be closed. The non-medical use of opium (opium smoking and eating) having now been prohibited by the 1953 Protocol, it is desirable that all such other non-medical uses of narcotic drugs as are still permitted by international law should similarly come under the ban of generally accepted treaty provisions. This would constitute a valuable step towards the gradual suppression of coca-leaf chewing. Progress in this field has so far been slow. The transitional provisions included in the 1953 Opium Procotol and the Single Convention will enable national programmes of prohibition to be framed with a realistic regard for the difficulties involved, and to be carried expeditiously into effect.

Extension of Control to Cultivation

It is desirable also that a comprehensive system of control should be applied to the cultivation of the coca bush and of the hemp plant (cannabis sativa) grown for the production of cannabis, and that national monopoly agencies should be set up for coca leaves and cannabis on the same lines as for opium. It would be even better if the production of cannabis could be completely prohibited except for small quantities for scientific purposes. The Board shares the hopes of those who trust that the enhanced control over opium production which is contemplated in the provisions of both the 1953 Opium Protocol and the 1961 Convention will lead to an appreciable reduction in the quantity of opium diverted from legal production into illicit channels.

Penal Measures

Furthermore, the existing treaty rules concerning the penal measures which governments bind themselves to carry out fall short of what could be desired. This applies not only to the treaties now in force, and particularly to the Convention of 1936 for the suppression of the illicit traffic in dangerous drugs, but even more to the Single Convention of 1961. The general aim of these treaty provisions is: to prevent illicit traffickers from escaping prosecution on merely technical grounds of lack of jurisdiction; to ensure the imposition of deterrent penalties; and to facilitate direct, informal and rapid co-operation between national enforcement agencies, both at the national and at the international level.

A serious loophole exists in the fact that an international illicit trafficker may in some instances escape prosecution on the ground that the crime with which he is charged was committed outside the country in which for the time being he resides. In countries where this is the legal position it is desirable that illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs should, whether by law or by treaty, be made an extraditable offence, and where neither prosecution nor extradition are possible, the alternative of expulsion should be kept open.

The importance of the role of the International Criminal Police Organization in furthering international co-operation in the fight against the illicit traffic can hardly be over-emphasized. Adjoining states have a particular duty to co-operate with one another in local operations and should provide themselves with institutional means of achieving close collaboration whenever required.

Need for international assistance

Insufficiency of Local Resources

No decisive blow can of course be dealt to the illicit traffic merely by closing the gaps in the international treaty system and by strengthening national legislation. Abolition of mass consumption of coca leaves and cannabis, effective control over licit production of opium and coca leaves, and prevention of illicit cultivation of the poppy and the coca bush are formidable operations which cannot be accomplished by goodwill alone. To fulfil such tasks or to suppress illicit traffic requires an efficient countrywide organization which not all governments possess. Moreover, as is the case with coca-leaf chewing, large-scale consumption of narcotic drugs is sometimes related to economic and social conditions, and governments cannot invariably be sure of adequate popular support for their reforms. It has of course to be remembered that national administrative potentials are related to the level of political, economic and social development in the country concerned. Where effective local resources are insufficient, international assistance should be afforded, whether multilaterally or otherwise.

The Board for its part is always ready, within the means at its disposal, to render assistance to any government which desires such help in setting up or improving its control services.

Geographic Concentration of Efforts

Without going so far as to specify the countries which require international assistance to make them more effective partners in the fight against the international illicit traffic, the regions of the world where the limited means available for assistance in this field would be most usefully employed are South-East Asia, some parts of the Near and Middle East and the Andean Indian Highlands of South America. The needs of new African countries should also be kept in mind, not so much in order to meet present dangers as to prevent undesirable developments in the future.

Possible Under-estimation of the Problem

Among the manifold purposes for which technical assistance may be needed, the reinforcement of narcotics control cannot be regarded as everywhere possessing an overriding urgency; on the other hand it should be said that there is sometimes a tendency to underrate the seriousness of the problem of narcotic drugs. This may be due to the fact that while some countries are mercifully free from a serious internal problem of drug addiction, those which have such a problem do not always realize its full extent. Governments which have no certain knowledge of the incidence of drug addiction within their territories and have no problem of illicit traffic would be well advised to ascertain, by reference to the medical prescriptions in the hands of pharmacists, the actual consumption of narcotic drugs by addicts. It may well be that such investigations will in some instances reveal that the problem of addiction is more serious than has been thought.

Limits of progress

Need for Arrangements for Addicts

By such measures as have been indicated from paragraph 12 onwards, the quantities of opium and coca leaves available to clandestine factories for the manufacture of narcotic drugs could surely be appreciably curtailed, thereby checking the illicit traffic in morphine, heroin and cocaine, and correspondingly diminishing the incidence of addiction to these drugs.

It is, however, too much to hope that addiction would then disappear. For one thing, illicit traffickers may then be expected to turn instead to the manufacture of, and trade in, synthetic narcotic drugs. Manufacture of these drugs, however, demands technical skill of a much higher order than does that of natural narcotics.

But even if illicit traffic in all drugs were completely suppressed, problems would remain. The demand created by addicts is not influenced by ordinary economic considerations, but springs from a compulsive urge which pays no regard to cost. Addicts unable to obtain the narcotic drugs they crave may resort to other outlets, such as barbiturates. The problem of narcotic drugs will not be solved unless measures are also taken to care for the drug addict, including arrangements for the withdrawal of the drug and for after-care to prevent relapse. Governments will doubtless give heed to the recommendations of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organization as to the need for legal provisions which would permit the civil commitment of addicts.

The importance of economic and social conditions

Need for Study of Etiology of Addiction

In countries where drug addiction has assumed mass proportions and has become a grave social problem more fundamental measures will be required to eliminate the conditions which breed addiction. Not enough is known about the etiology of this phenomenon or of the underlying economic and social factors.

The action of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in urging governments to encourage research into the etiology of drug addiction, with special emphasis on the social, economic and medical aspects of this question is welcome, and it is to be hoped that many countries will be able to contribute to this study.

Need for comprehensive approach to problem of narcotic drugs and for close co-operation of all organizations concerned

From the foregoing broad outline of the problem it is clear that even more than in the past, the Board will in exercising its functions be obliged to take into account all relevant factors within its knowledge. Moreover under the 1953 Opium Protocol it will have additional responsibilities in respect of opium production including the duty to review the over-all situation in the countries concerned, to propose remedial measures for gravely unsatisfactory situations and to make local inquiries.

In so doing, its operations may overlap to some extent those of other international organs, and it will henceforward be even more imperative to ensure harmonious co-operation amongst the various international organizations which are concerned with specific but nevertheless interlocking aspects of the problem of narcotic drugs. Close co-ordination of the work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the Board and Drug Supervisory Body, the World Health Organization, the International Criminal Police Organization, associated in specific cases with other specialized agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and periodical joint action will be required in order to ensure that each organization can contribute its special resources and skill to the solution of a problem which is common to them all.

In the light of these considerations, the Board particularly welcomes the invitation it has received from the Secretary-General to participate in the Seminar on Narcotic Problems in developing countries in Africa ... held in November 1963, and in the Consultative Group Meeting on narcotics control for countries in Asia and the Far East ... held in February 1964. It is obviously advantageous to accept the opportunity offered by such seminars to train groups of national officials in those aspects of narcotics control which are of particular concern to the Board and the Board will gladly co-operate on similar future occasions.

The Opium Protocol of 1953

The Protocol which came into force in March 1963 contains provisions which, broadly stated, aim at:

  1. Limiting the production and supply of opium to the quantities needed for medical and scientific purposes;

  2. Preventing the diversion of opium into illicit channels at the stage of primary production;

  3. Prohibiting the use of opium in any form for other than medical or scientific purposes;

  4. Some measure of control over poppy straw;

  5. Authorizing international action not only in respect of breaches of the Protocol, but also where an unsatisfactory situation arises in the control of opium.

In order to achieve these objectives (which in the case of (a) and (c) are subject to certain defined exceptions during a transitional period of relatively short duration), the Protocol requires opium-producing countries to set up national opium monopolies; limits the number of countries authorized to produce opium for export; restricts stocks of opium to maximum amounts depending on the category to which the country in question belongs; requires - as a general principle - the destruction of opium seized from the illicit traffic; and applies to opium a system of estimates and statistical returns similar to that prescribed by the 1931 Convention for manufactured narcotic drugs.

More than any other narcotics treaty the Protocol relies on the Board for its international implementation. Some of the new functions differ in character from those prescribed by the earlier treaties; and in future, in addition to considerations of public health and administrative capacity, it will also have to take into account, where appropriate, economic and social factors.

The sum of this additional burden is substantial, but the Board is confident that in its endeavours to make the new treaty an effective instrument in the campaign against the misuse of narcotic drugs it will, as in the past, have the wholehearted co-operation of all governments and of all international organs concerned.


1 Document E/OB/19 November 1963.