Work of the Permanent Central Narcotics Board in 1966
THE END OF AN ERA
THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEM OF INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS CONTROL
The situation prior to introduction of control
The situation in the twenties and thirties until the 1925 and 1931 Conventions became more fully effective
Some abatement of the opium problem
Spread of misuse of dangerous drugs not under international control
FURTHER POSSIBILITIES OF PROGRESS BY APPLICATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL
New opium production
Advisability of discontinuing opium production in some countries
Means to supplement the administrative measures prescribed by the narcotics treaties
Pages: 23 to 28
Creation Date: 1967/01/01
The Annual Report of the Permanent Central Narcotics Board to the Economic and Social Council on its work in 1966 figured on the agenda of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at its twenty-first session in December 1966 and, together with the report of the latter, it will go before the Economic and Social Council at its forty-second session
The following are excerpts 1 from the general part of the report which precedes statistics on production, manufacture, conversion, consumption, seizures and illicit traffic, etc., in the case of the principal narcotics and raw substances.
The Board notes that 1966 was the first year in which the international system of statistical control over narcotic drugs was administered by it in terms of the Single Convention. This was an important step in the process of replacing the old treaties and, when the new International Narcotics Control Board enters upon its functions in March 1968, the Single Convention will be in full operation. The report proceeds:
"We may thus be said to have arrived at the end of a chapter in the history of narcotics control, a chapter opening with the Shanghai Opium Commission in 1909 and the formulation of the basic (and still valid) principles of control by the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 and ending with the adoption and bringing into effect of the 1961 Single Convention. During this period the main effort of the international society of states in the field of narcotic drugs was directed to the gradual devising and implementing of a network of administrative controls. These have included: restriction of use of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes; licensing of all enterprises dealing with narcotics (covering all economic phases from the agricultural product to the final retail distribution of the manufactured drug); supervision by specialized government organs through the medium, of records, periodical reports and inspection; and limitation of manufacture and import to the quantities needed for medical and scientific purposes. Governments have also accepted the need to co-operate in the fight against the illicit traffic, to furnish to international organs periodical reports on their stewardship and to submit to international control; and all these matters are now governed by rules of international treaty law. Generally speaking, governments have carried out these treaty obligations to the best of their respective abilities and have striven to suppress the illicit traffic.
1 With minor editorial modifications
To begin with, little attention was devoted to the medical and particularly the psychological problems of addiction; nor was it at first fully realized that not all governments are capable of making a full contribution to the international efforts in this field. In point of fact it is probable that most of the opium consumers in several of the regions whose level of consumption gave rise to the initiation of international narcotics control only became addicted because of the ready availability of opium and not because of personality failings. Moreover little doubt was entertained that the local authorities were fully capable of carrying out the required administrative measures.
When, however, increasing attention was paid to the nature of addiction in the more economically advanced countries, which to a greater extent occurs among ill-balanced persons not adapted to facing the problems of life, and when it was observed that application of control gave rise to a considerable illicit traffic and that not all governments were fully capable of carrying out their formal international obligations there began to be some understanding of the importance of the psychology of the addict and of the necessity of rendering international aid to governments needing it in this field.
As the gaps in the international control system were progressively closed and the international regime, after decades of building, was completed it became more generally recognized that the hopes originally attached to the introduction of international control could not be fully realized. Governments and the international organs now understand that even the most perfect regime could not completely suppress the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs nor prevent the development of a considerable volume of addiction.
Governments and the international organs are now, therefore, giving increasing attention to supplementary measures designed to bring about improved results. While due weight continues to be given to the importance of administrative control of narcotic drugs and of international co-operation in the fight against the illicit traffic and to the desirability of further strengthening the control regime, such questions as international aid to governments to enable them to improve their contribution to the international effort, the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, including studies of etiological factors, and measures to meet the risk that addicts deprived of narcotic drugs by tight controls may turn to the abuse of other harmful substances have become principal items of international and national deliberation and action.
This shift in emphasis does not appear to be temporary and it has been so pronounced that one may justly speak of a new chapter of international collaboration in the field of narcotic drugs. The shift became apparent in the concluding years of elaborating the Single Convention and the adoption of this Convention appears to mark the borderline between the old and new periods. The change is also reflected in such external phenomena as the forthcoming disappearance of the present Permanent Central Narcotics Board and of the Drug Supervisory Body after existing for forty and thirty-five years respectively and their replacement in March 1968 by a new organ, the International Narcotics Control Board, as well as by the emergence of an increasing number of new leading personalities on the international scene.
Critics of the value of the present system point in particular to the magnitude of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs which governments have not yet been able to suppress. It is unfortunately true, as the Board has stated in earlier reports, that every year approximately twelve hundred metric tons of opium still become available for misuse of which, it is believed, about 1,000 tons derive from uncontrolled or illicit production in South East Asia and the remainder from diversion from licit cultivation elsewhere. This is a huge quantity, sufficient to produce 120 tons of morphine, from which in turn about twelve milliard therapeutic doses of morphine or twice as many doses of heroin could be made.
In adjudging this situation it has to be remembered that a large part of this opium, particularly of that harvested in South East Asia, is consumed locally; but, whether consumed in its original form or in the form of manufactured drugs made therefrom, the quantity annually available is in any event sufficient to supply several million addicts. Even so, however sombre the present picture, it represents a striking measure of progress if compared with the past.
Before the introduction of control measures addicts could obtain their supplies from sources which were completely legal. In its 1963 report the Board expressed the opinion that, taking into account the general increase in population, the relative incidence of addiction to manufactured narcotic drugs has appreciably diminished. In a few countries, indeed, it could be said that there has been a noticeable improvement in absolute terms - that is to say, the number of addicts has markedly decreased despite the growth in population since such drugs were brought under control. If all the facts were known the same would probably be found to be true in respect of other countries. Statistical proof from world-wide data is impossible because comprehensive figures do not, of course, exist for a period when there was no control and most countries did not compile the relevant information. There are, however, certain statistics which tend to support these conclusions.
It can certainly be established beyond doubt that the number of persons misusing opium has been greatly reduced. Though it is improbable that there has been a similar decrease in the world-wide incidence of misuse of coca leaves and cannabis drugs there is not sufficient evidence to determine this; but in this regard it must be remembered that only with the coming into force of the Single Convention in 1964 have coca leaves and cannabis drugs (other than extracts and tinctures of cannabis) been subjected to a comprehensive international control regime.
An interesting comparison can for example be drawn between recent legal consumption of narcotic drugs in the United States of America and the legal trade in such drugs in that country from 1908 to 1914, in other words before the enactment of the Harrison Act introducing a comprehensive control regime under the Federal Government. In making this comparison the Board has not included the figures for cocaine. These suggest that prior to 1914 the United States consumed more than five times as much cocaine as now, though it then had only about half its present population. The Board has omitted them because it felt that no conclusions as to possible misuse of cocaine could safely be made in view of the fact that the former extensive therapeutic use of the drug has now shrunk to very little.
The Board has accordingly limited its comparison to all narcotic drugs other than cocaine and cannabis. Even so it encountered several difficulties. The number of natural drugs now in use - that is to say drugs derived from opium and coca leaves, and cannabis drugs - is greater than before World War I, in addition to which considerable quantities of synthetic drugs are now used, whereas these were unknown prior to 1914. For this reason the Board has reduced its estimates of the quantities of drugs annually consumed in the two periods to a common denominator in order to allow for the varying potencies of different drugs. It has compared, not the weight of the quantities consumed, but the numbers of therapeutic dosages. In so doing it has reached the broad conclusion that the annual legal per capita consumption of narcotic drugs in the United States before 1914 was approximately double what it is today. If - and this is surely a fair assumption - American patients now receive whatever quantities of narcotic drugs are justified on medical grounds, it follows that before World War I large quantities of narcotic drugs available from legal sources must have been used for other than legitimate medical purposes. The difference between the quantities then consumed and what would have been consumed if the per capita rate of consumption had been no higher than at present was enough to supply opiates to between four hundred thousand and six hundred thousand addicts in a population which was only half what it is today. To this figure must be added the number of those who habitually misused cocaine or cannabis; but, as has already been said, the Board has no means of estimating that number.
The foregoing calculation rests on the hypothesis that the proportion of narcotics consumed in the form of codeine was the same before World War I as it is today. There are, however, good reasons for assuming that this was not the case and that the proportion of codeine consumption was then much smaller than now. For one thing, the widespread use of heroin at that time indicates a lower rate of use of codeine. If such a lower rate is assumed the number of addicts obtaining narcotic drugs from legal sources before World War I must have been much higher still.
The situation in the twenties and thirties until the 1925 and 1931 Conventions became more fully effective
The 1925 Convention entered into force in 1928 and the 1931 Convention in 1933; but several years elapsed before these Conventions were widely accepted and fully implemented, and data relating to the twenties and thirties clearly show that in the world as a whole, as in the United States before 1914, huge quantities of manufactured narcotic drugs were available from legal establishments for misuse by addicts. If this was the case even several years after control had been established but had not yet become fully effective there can be no doubt that before World War I also, that is to say before the conclusion of the narcotics treaties, great masses of addicts were, in numerous countries, supplied with legally manufactured drugs.
Reports from manufacturing countries in the years 1925 to 1929 showed that seventy-three metric tons of narcotic derivatives of opium manufactured during the period had disappeared; and in the same period six tons of cocaine were reported to have escaped into the illicit traffic. The total legitimate world requirements of these drugs was then estimated at approximately 39 tons a year, so that even supposing the reports to have been complete the amount diverted from authorized manufacture into illicit channels was forty per cent of the quantity supplied for medical purposes; but in fact they were far from complete, as was indeed only to be expected since the 1925 Convention did not come into force until 1928.
Information supplied by governments to the League of Nations' Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs and to conferences held under the auspices of the League contains abundant evidence of the huge amounts of narcotics obtained by illicit traffickers from authorized manufacture. A single factory notorious at that time exported 860 kg of morphine, 2,711 kg of heroin and 40 kg of cocaine to a single country for illicit purposes during 1927 and the first three months of 1928. This factory, which handled about one third to one half of the world's total manufacture of narcotic drugs, was one of the main sources of the illicit traffic.
To take another example, one country which had never before manufactured narcotic drugs suddenly authorized three drug factories, of which two were founded by well-known illicit traffickers. During the first six months of 1930 this country exported 2,300 kg of morphine and 4,300 kg of heroin to other countries, including about 1,400 kg morphine and 2,700 kg heroin to Greece alone! But the governments of the alleged countries of destination stated that the drugs never arrived. To grasp the significance of these figures it should be remembered that the world's total annual medical requirements of heroin were then about two metric tons. At present they are not more than 80 kg, of which approximately one fifth to one fourth is used for conversion into nalorphine, a non-addictive substance. It is worth recording that the country referred to in this paragraph does not now authorize the manufacture of narcotic drugs.
This example was by no means unique. In 1932 and 1933 another country licensed seven narcotics factories, none of which had any legitimate customers. Shortly afterwards a third country authorized a factory which engaged partly in legitimate business and partly in the illicit traffic. One of the owners was arrested by the police with considerable quantities of heroin in his luggage. Another factory exporting narcotic drugs had a price differential, charging less to those possessing an import certificate than to those who had none.
Facts such as these lend a certain perspective to the present world situation, when, as the Board has repeatedly stated, there is hardly any significant diversion of manufactured narcotic drugs from legal channels into the illicit traffic. Without a shadow of doubt the administrative control established by the narcotics treaties over legal trade in manufactured narcotic drugs has been dramatically successful and has contributed to a considerable fall in the relative incidence of habitual misuse of these substances and very probably also to a decrease in the actual number of such addicts in many countries. To keep the drugs from their potential victims, that is to say to make it as difficult as possible for potential misusers to obtain the drugs - and this is the aim of the administrative control system - has been shown to be an effective, indeed indispensable, weapon in the fight against the evil of addiction.
Any restriction of trade is inevitably accompanied by the development of a black market, and the very success of international narcotics control in curbing leakages from legal trade has given rise to the clandestine manufacture of narcotic drugs. The unfortunate existence in many countries of large numbers of psychologically vulnerable people with a craving for narcotic drugs creates an extremely profitable market; and as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Board have more than once pointed out the traffic in clandestinely manufactured morphine, heroin and cocaine cannot be fully suppressed so long as illegal manufacturers have access to ample supplies of opium and coca leaves respectively.
The cultivation of the coca bush was not under international control before the Single Convention came into force and, except where prohibited, it is still nowhere subject to a regime conforming to the requirements of that treaty. Until prohibition is everywhere enforced and the relevant provisions of the Convention are effectively applied to legal cultivation, abundant supplies of coca leaves will remain available to clandestine manufacturers of cocaine.
Reference has already been made to the large quantities of opium now available, either from illicit or uncontrolled production or by diversion from controlled poppy cultivation; but these quantities, which together total about 1,200 metric tons, are very much less than were misused in the thirties. In the years 1934 to 1937 those governments which furnished information reported a total production of 18,500 metric tons of opium, of which about 1,100 tons were reported to have been used for domestic consumption by addicts, about 800 tons to have been exported to countries which permitted opium smoking, and approximately 1,400 tons to have been employed for medical purposes, mainly for the manufacture of morphine and codeine; the rest, approximately 15,200 tons, remained entirely unaccounted for! 2 Moreover, the large amounts of opium harvested in such regions as Manchuria and Jehol were not reported and these would have to be included in order to provide a realistic assessment of the volume of opium available for illicit purposes thirty years ago. The considerable improvement since that time, which is illustrated by these figures, was brought about by administrative measures such as prohibition or strict control of poppy cultivation and there must have been a parallel decrease in the number of addicts to opium and opiates, not only in countries where this is known to have occurred, but also in other countries.
What can be accomplished by administrative action has recently been demonstrated again by Iran whose resolute and courageous suppression of opium production and its non-medical use has led to a radical reduction in the number of addicts in that country. If the estimate supplied to the Board is correct the number is now about one sixth of what it was before prohibition was adopted.
The benefits derived from international narcotics control will also be better appreciated if one looks at the alarming growth in misuse of dangerous sedatives and stimulants which are not subject to international control. While not all those who misuse these substances are necessarily in the same category of psychologically vulnerable persons as the great majority of habitual consumers of narcotic drugs in industrially advanced countries, many of them are and their resort to these substances often springs from the fact that the latter are much more easily procurable than the narcotic drugs under international control.
Pre-War Production and Distribution of Narcotic Drugs and their Raw Materials. League of Nations, doc. C.24. M.24.1944.XI.
One such country, which possesses advanced medical services, has a relatively low per capita consumption of narcotic drugs; but on the other hand its consumption of dangerous drugs not under international control seems to be very high indeed. Its annual per capita consumption of barbiturates and amphetamines is estimated to be about 28 times as high as its consumption of narcotic drugs excluding codeine and about 12 times as high if codeine is included. The per capita consumption of tranquillizers which have effects on the central nervous system is also very high.
This comparison is cited as corroborating the effectiveness of the administrative measures comprised in the narcotics regime; but it does not necessarily follow that the application of these measures, in whole or in part, to other drugs would yield equally beneficial results.
While history has shown that the traditional measures of administrative control cannot of themselves bring about total eradication of the illicit traffic and of addiction to narcotic drugs they are nevertheless capable of achieving still further benefits. The Board has more than once expressed the view that the Single Convention is a notable step forward in the development of administrative control and that it has closed the principal gaps in the system provided by the earlier treaties; but this is not to say that the provisions of the new treaty could not be further improved by additions or refinements. It may however be prudent to wait for more experience with the operation of the Single Convention as it is and suggestions for amendment at this time are perhaps premature.
In fact, not all the provisions of the Single Convention have yet been fully applied in certain countries which are quite capable of doing so and there is substantial room for improvement in this connexion. In particular, the control of opium production, which is still the main weak spot in the whole narcotics situation, could be greatly ameliorated, not only by more thorough implementation of the relevant provisions of the 1953 Protocol and the Single Convention but also by introducing outright or gradual prohibition.
The Board has already called attention in its last report to the legal, administrative and economic difficulties which countries not now producing opium would encounter if they were to embark on cultivation of the poppy for this purpose. In the first place they have to satisfy the requirement of the Single Convention that Parties proposing to initiate or increase opium production must ensure that they do not thereby bring about over-production in the world. There is in fact no need for additional opium; present production is already adequate for legitimate requirements. Moreover there are economic considerations which argue against the commencement or extension of opium production: for example, the current depression in world market prices of opium does not appear to be a temporary phenomenon but part of a permanent trend; opium's present dominant position as a raw material for the manufacture of morphine is seriously threatened by the increasing use of poppy straw; and competition is to be expected from synthetic substitutes for codeine into which about ninety per cent of the manufactured morphine is converted.
Since it is again reported that a particular country contemplates starting legal opium production it may be well to repeat that effective control as prescribed by the 1953 Protocol and Single Convention is not only difficult but also expensive. The control systems in the traditional opium producing countries were built up over a long period during which the necessary administrative skills were acquired. Yet even these cannot wholly prevent the diversion of opium into the illicit traffic. A country without this experience would risk becoming a centre of illicit traffic, bringing danger not only to important interests of the community of states but also to the health of much of its own population.
Some of the considerations which can be urged against new poppy cultivation also provide valid arguments in favour of abandoning some of the existing opium production. The present world market price of opium containing 12 per cent of morphine is about eleven and a half U.S. dollars per kilogram. Taking into account the high cost of supervision, collection, transport, manipulation, storage and export the price payable by national monopolies to the farmers can hardly exceed the equivalent of 8 U.S. dollars per kilogram.
The opium is collected from incised capsules of the poppy still standing in the field, the capsules being incised only once in some countries and twice or even three times in others. From information relating to certain districts where the poppy capsules are excised only once the Board has calculated that the collection of the latex from one hectare of land requires about 1,280 working hours, yielding about 7 kg of opium. Assuming that the cultivator sells the opiusm for the equivalent of 56 U.S. dollars his gross earnings would be between 4 and 5 U.S. cents an hour, from which he would have to meet his working expenses, such as for example the cost of equipment, and pay any hired labour he may employ. Moreover, these slender rewards may be, and are from time to time, reduced or even extinguished by weather hazards such as high winds or untimely rain.
These few figures do not of course pretend to be an exact account of the economics of opium production, and the earnings may well differ materially from one district to another; but they do serve to indicate that in areas with a good standard of living it would not be profitable to engage in opium production. Except where it is undertaken for special reasons of policy such as self-sufficiency, opium production is usually coincident with a low living standard.
Some opium producing countries have made appreciable economic progress and have greatly increased the living standard of their population in recent years. Local wages are already higher and often considerably higher than the rate which could be paid for incising the poppy heads and collecting the latex. In harvesting the opium the farmer is of course often assisted by members of his family who have not enough to do and this makes the process worth while; but even where this is the case the production of opium for sale to the National Monopoly is no longer a remunerative occupation in some districts in which the living standard has appreciably risen in recent years and it only becomes so where, as sometimes happens, the farmer contrives to sell part of his crop on the illicit market.
In these circumstances and in particular in view of the competition from poppy straw the future of opium as the principal base material for the manufacture of morphine and codeine cannot be other than doubtful. Even now some manufacturers of narcotics from poppy straw sell morphine and codeine at prices only slightly in excess of what they would have to pay for their raw material if they used opium. Under pressure of this competition several factories whose raw material is opium are obliged to sell their products at prices which leave hardly any margin for profit; and some of them plan to turn to poppy straw and can be expected to do so when it becomes practicable to acquire the necessary new machinery and techniques.
Opium producing countries which have rising standards of living, therefore, would be well advised to look carefully into the economics of their opium production and consider whether the land could not be better employed in producing other crops.
Three principal tasks face the world community in the realm of narcotic drugs: to supress the illicit traffic; to guard against the risk that as addicts find narcotic drugs less and less accessible they may turn to other dangerous substances not under international control; and to attack the problem from the aspect of mental health with special reference to the social and other factors which give rise to the psychological weaknesses of the victims and potential victims of narcotic drugs, including in particular the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts. It is now widely recognized that the application of the narcotics treaties must be supplemented by other measures if a completely satisfactory solution of these problems is to be achieved. While sharing this view the Board holds that any consideration of further measures should not lose sight of the great contribution made by the narcotics treaties in ameliorating a situation which, before they were effectively applied, was very much graver than it is today. Not much progress has yet been made in carrying out the requisite supplementary actions. There has been a great amount of valuable discussion and some useful planning, but generally speaking the necessary economic and social reforms, which must often be radical, have not yet passed the preliminary stage. This state of affairs, though regrettable, is not particularly surprising. Such measures often have political and financial implications which render their implementation more difficult than the conlcusion of a treaty or the enactment of a control measure."