Review of the twenty-first session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Forty-second session of the Economic and Social Council


The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its twenty-first session in Geneva in December 1966, the report of which was taken note of by the Economic and Social Council at its forty-second session in New York in May 1967, when the Council also took decisions on various proposals made by the Commission.


Pages: 59 to 61
Creation Date: 1967/01/01

Review of the twenty-first session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Forty-second session of the Economic and Social Council

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its twenty-first session in Geneva in December 1966, the report of which was taken note of by the Economic and Social Council at its forty-second session in New York in May 1967, when the Council also took decisions on various proposals made by the Commission.

The Chairman of the Commission's twenty-first session was Professor V. V. Vasilieva (USSR), the other office-holders being: Mr. R. E. Curran (Canada), first Vice-Chairman; Mr. H. Asahina (Japan), second Vice-Chairman and Mr. J. P. Bertschinger (Switzerland), Rapporteur.

The membership * of the Commission consisted of the following twenty-one States: Argentina, Canada, China, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Arab Republic, United Kingdom, United States of America and Yugoslavia.

The following countries sent observers to the twenty-first session: Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and Tunisia.

The non-narcotic psychotropic substances

One of the main interests in the Commission's discussions last year lay in the actions it initiated to put certain psychotropic substances - namely, barbiturates, amphetamines, tranquillizers and hallucinogens - under more extensive controls, both nationally and internationally. (A full review of this subject was published in the preceding number of the Bulletin on Narcoties, volume XIX, No. 1, pp. 15 to 19.) It needs to be added here that the Economic and Social Council has fully endorsed the actions recommended by the Commission: it has adopted resolution 1197 (XLII) on LSD requiring governments to closely control production, distribution, import and export of this substance, restrict its use to scientific and medical purposes and ensure that the administration of LSD takes place only under very close and continuous medical supervision. All other usage of these LSD and similar hallucinogens has been condemned by the Council and governments have been urged to take all steps of prevention.

As of 1 January 1967, membership has been increased to twenty-four with the addition of Brazil, Jamaica and Morocco.

Professor V.V.Vasilieva, USSR, Chairman of the twenty-first session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Full size image: 85 kB, Professor V.V.Vasilieva, USSR, Chairman of the twenty-first session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

The Council noted the studies that the Commission was initiating with a view to drawing up appropriate measures which would bind all countries to apply controls to these psychotropic substances.

The future of opium

The twenty-first session of the Commission was also distinguished by a far reaching discussion on the future of opium. This matter had been raised at the preceding session in a statement by the United States representative inquiring if all the legitimate requirements of the world for analgesics and antitussives could not be taken care of by synthetic drugs. If this should prove to be so, he had suggested that the licit production of opium for the making of morphine, codeine, etc., might be done away with altogether.

The Commission was presented by the Secretariat with a study which analysed the complex economic and therapeutic considerations which underly this question. The Commission expressed satisfaction for the analysis made and, in line with the objective alternatives presented in the document, formed the opinion that the future of opium was assured for a long time yet.

Synthetic drugs had not proved perfect substitutes for the opiates. The medical profession and the world as a whole would be slow to change over from well-tried medicines such as codeine. As far as illicit trafficking and addiction were concerned, it was not legal opium on which they mainly thrived but opium illicitly produced. On all these grounds, therefore, there seemed to the Commission to be little virtue in tampering with the place of opium. There was, however, the possibility of obtaining the medically-useful opiates from a process which did not require opium as the raw material, but which used the ripe poppy plant from the capsule of which opium had not yet been extracted by incision. This was the renowned process of obtaining morphine from poppy straw, the name by which the ripe poppy plant is known. This possibility of using an industrial process to obtain the opiates, rather than first by the arduous manual collecting of opium from individual plants, and secondly by submitting this raw opium to the industrial process at a later stage - and often in a far-off country - might, it seemed to the Commission, have much to be said in its favour. The Commission accordingly asked the Secretariat to continue the highly promising lines of inquiry in this field on which it had launched.

Sunflowers for hashish

Another matter of significance was the preliminary information received by the Commission on a problem which has engaged its close attention over the years: It was informed by the observer from Lebanon that his Government had chosen a substitute crop for the cannabis (hashish) which was illegally grown in some parts of the country. After technical studies, the Government had decide to encourage sunflower cultivation instead of cannabis. This cultivation was being subsidised by the State, both by material supply of seed and fertilizer, and also by the fixing of a price which was about twice that of the market. The Commission expressed great interest in this reform and looked forward to its full implementation.

It also engaged in its annual reviews of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs all over the world, and developments as regards the abuse of drugs (drug addiction), and other regular matters on its agenda.

Technical co-operation

The Commission received a report on how the Secretary-General had carried out the programme of technical assistance in narcotics control. It noted that, apart from the award of fellowships for the training of narcotics officials and the rendering of experts services, two regional projects had been concluded. The first was a seminar in Teheran for the training of enforcement officers in the Middle East; this had been attended by officers from Turkey, Iran and Israel. The second was a study tour organized in Latin America to points of convergence of the illicit traffic in the coca leaf and in cocaine. Seven South American countries and the United States of America had participated in this exercise.

The Commission looked forward to the survey of economic and social requirements of the opium producing areas of Northern Thailand, preparatory to measures to eliminate opium cultivation there.

Single Convention, 1961

The Commission found satisfaction in the increasing number of countries who had become Parties to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. At the end of the year 1966, the number of Parties was approaching 60. The Commission took various practical steps to universalize the regime of the new treaty and make its working as effective as possible. It proposed the practical arrangements for co-operation under this treaty between the Secretariat of the United Nations and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) which would come into being in 1968, and replace the present PCNB (Permanent Central Narcotics Board) and DSB (Drug Supervisory Body). These were approved by the Council in resolution 1196 (XLII).

Illicit traffic

The Commission reviewed the main sources and routes of the illicit traffic in drugs and the principal areas of its destination. It noted that the illicit traffic has well-established patterns, and is one of the most striking examples of organized crime, particularly where the drug goes over long distances from areas of supply to consuming areas. Traffic in drugs such as heroin and hashish is carried on by highly efficient and well-disciplined gangs which have considerable resources in money, men and equipment.

The main centres of opium production are located in the Near and Middle East and in South-East Asia. The traffic in opium is destined for addicts who smoke prepared opium; more and more opium is converted into morphine base and diacetylmorphine (heroin). There is a pronounced tendency to convert opium into illicit heroin for use in countries of the Near and Middle East and of South-East Asia where addiction to this drug is speading. The illicit production in these two regions also supplies the traffic in opiates to Europe and North America. There are two main currents of illicit traffic in opium and opiates, one from the Middle East to the east coast of North America and the other from South-East Asia to Hong Kong, Japan, China (Taiwan) and the west coast of North America. There are also secondary flows of traffic, generally in the same direction, and the American continent remains. one of the main targets of the illicit traffic in heroin.

The coca bush the leaves of which yield cocaine, grows wild and is also cultivated, particularly in Peru and Bolivia. The overwhelming bulk of the coca leaf harvested is chewed in the producing countries and in the adjacent areas; some is used to manufacture the alkaloids which enter illicit traffic in the form of cocaine paste or cocaine. There is a significant flow of illicit cocaine towards North America and there is also some traffic to the Middle East and to Europe. The Commission noted the large seizures of cocaine made in recent years.

Cannabis is the most widely used of narcotic drugs. It is found in the illicit traffic in different forms and over a hundred names are used to designate them, some of the more popular ones being marihuana, dagga, kif, maconha, hashish, charas and ganja. Much of the cannabis traffic is local, since the plant is illicitly grown on a small scale by individual cultivators who consume it themselves or sell it through local intermediaries in the immediate vicinity. There is also some illicit cultivation for export, and a considerable international traffic, particularly from certain African countries towards Europe and from Mexico to the United States. Lastly, a highly organized traffic in hashish is a special feature of the traffic in the Near and Middle East. Here, the cannabis is cultivated and processed in Lebanon and is smuggled through several countries for consumption in the United Arab Republic and other countries of the region.

Very small quantities of other natural narcotic drugs and their preparations appear in the illicit traffic in several countries, being mostly diversions from licit channels through thefts, forged or false prescriptions, leakages through para-medical personnel, doctors, etc.

As in previous years very few seizures of synthetic drugs were reported out of the total of above 600; however, the Commission noted that in one country large seizures of methadone had been made.

It was observed that data regarding the misuse of psychotropic substances not under international control, such as barbiturates, tranquillizers, amphetamines and hallucinogens were fragmentary. Nevertheless, the fact was noted that supplies of LSD seemed to be easily available, and that the drug was misused in several countries.

Abuse of drugs (drug addiction)

The Commission once again examined the information at its disposal on the nature, causes and incidence of drug addiction. While noting that an ever-increasing number of Governments were providing data on the subject, the Commission again examined how to improve the data. In this connexion, it considered the possibility of an international definition of drug addiction which might help to standardize statistical returns, and concluded that the matter needed further study. A suggestion to set up national advisory committees to study the use of narcotics and psychotropic substances not under international control was thought useful, but it was considered preferable to leave each Government free to select the best means of keeping itself fully informed on the nature and extent of drug abuse within its territories. Finally, a suggestion that a list of scientific correspondents should be drawn up by the Secretariat was considered worthy of further study, the Secretariat being instructed to report on it to the Commission at its twenty-second session.

With regard to the problem of the etiology of drug addiction, the Commission recognized that there were, as often emphasized by WHO, three closely interconnected factors: the drug, the consumer and the environment. However, with respect to each drug and regarding different regions of the world and even in different countries, the pattern of addiction was not uniform, and there were a number of possible etiological factors that needed to be considered. On the subject of treatment, the Commission emphasized that the ultimate aim is not merely withdrawal or detoxication; it is complete rehabilitation.