How new drugs are brought under international narcotics control by the procedure of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961




Pages: 51 to 52
Creation Date: 1968/01/01

How new drugs are brought under international narcotics control by the procedure of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

The case of etorphine and acetorphine

This is the case of two drugs having the qualities of the most dangerous of narcotic drugs, but possessing at the same time outstanding utility in immobilizing big and small game in wild life conservation, and for the same purpose also in more conventional veterinary practice.

The stages by which these drugs were brought under control, apart from explaining the procedure which is applied, also bring out how the international bodies responsible for applying the Single Convention balanced the problem of the danger to man that the substances represented on one side, with their peculiar usefulness to him in his control of nature, on the other.

Drugs under the control of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, are listed in schedules to the treaty. From time to time, it is necessary to amend the schedules either by adding new substances that have been developed or by deleting some that need no longer be controlled or, thirdly, by changing the regime of control by moving a substance from one schedule to another. The procedure for amendment can be started by the World Health Organization or by a Party to the Convention in terms of its Article 3.

In June 1966, the United Kingdom, as a Party, notified the Secretary-General that it had information about two new substances, etorphine and acetorphine, which appeared to be subject to similar abuse and productive of similar ill effects as the drugs in Schedule I of the Convention.

The United Kingdom added that etorphine had potential use in the capture of wild animals, in game conservation, in immobilizing captive animals in zoological parks and in immobilizing domestic animals in conventional veterinary practice. As an animal immobilizing agent, the drug appeared to offer substantial advantages over drugs hitherto used for this purpose and could be considered the drug of choice in this field. Acetorphine was reported to have uses in veterinary medicine with pronounced advantages in the immobilization of the giraffe in which toxic effects were reduced as compared to the effects of etorphine.

The Secretary-General brought this notification* to the attention of the Parties to the Single Convention, to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and' to the World Health Organization. In accordance with a proviso of the Convention, the Parties were invited to examine, in the light of the available information, the possibility of applying provisionally to these two substances the measures of control applicable to the drugs in Schedule I, pending final decision by the international control organs.

In July 1966, the Director-General of the World Health Organization informed the Secretary-General that WHO had arrived at the conclusion that etorphine and acetorphine should be included in Schedule I of the Convention, since they could give rise to similar abuse, and produce similar ill effects as the substances already listed therein. In addition, WHO considered the two substances particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects, such liability not being offset by substantial therapeutic advantages not possessed by substances other than drugs under Schedule IV, and it accordingly recommended that the two substances also be included in Schedule IV of the Convention, but that their use in veterinary medicine be permitted.

The procedure of the Single Convention sets down that the recommendation of the World Health Organization shall be put to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs for decision.

At its 20th session in 1965, the Commission had decided that, if such a recommendation by WHO is made at a time when the Commission is not meeting or there are more than three months to elapse before its next session, the Commission may take a decision upon it by a vote of its members expressed by letter or telegram. This procedure was followed and the members of the Commission voted to include etorphine and acetorphine in Schedule I of the Convention.

It might be noted in passing that the U.K. had also notified cyprenorphine, but WHO recommended that it need not be subjected to control and this recommendation was accepted by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in the poll of its members by post.

In the vote some members of the Commission, however, disagreed with the recommendation of WHO that the two substances also be included in Schedule IV and at the same time their use in veterinary purposes be permitted. This part of the WHO recommendation accordingly went before the 21st session of the Commission in December 1966 for decision.

In the discussion it was argued that the WHO qualification with respect to the inscription of these substances in Schedule IV, i.e. to include them therein but to allow their use in veterinary medicine, was not in accordance with the Convention. It was decided that the juridical implication of such a qualified recommendation be studied further.

Subsequently, the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations gave the opinion that WHO could not make a conditional recommendation for including a substance in a Schedule of the Convention; WHO, therefore, could not recommend etorphine and acetorphine for inclusion in Schedule IV while allowing their use for veterinary purposes. This interpretation was accepted by the World Health Organization which revised its recommendation to one asking simply for the inclusion of etorphine and acetorphine in Schedule IV of the Convention. At the same time, however, WHO expressed the opinion that there should be a possibility to restrict, by the strongest possible measures, the use of a drug in human medicine while permitting its availability for use in animals under specified conditions. Since this would appear to require an amendment of the Single Convention, WHO recommended that such an amendment be made.

After discussion at its 22nd session in January 1968, the Commission formally decided to place etorphine and acetorphine in Schedule IV, but considered that the question of amending the Single Convention to take account of veterinary requirements should not be proceeded with for the time being. It noted, however, that the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States might raise the matter again if experience showed that the inclusion of these drugs in Schedule IV had the effect of interfering with the legitimate use of the drugs for veterinary purposes. It was noted that WHO had endorsed the value of these substances for use in animals, in particular in the management of wild life, and there was also the possibility of their having more increased utility in conventional veterinary practice.


So far there have been no accidents in the USSR resulting from the use of soporific or narcotic drugs by transport drivers immediately before or during work. Nevertheless, with a view to preventing such cases the Ministry of Public Health of the USSR promulgated the following Order on 5 July 1967:

"1 That the Pharmacological Committee, in establishing rules for the use of soporific and narcotic drugs, shall call attention to the danger of the use of such drugs by transport drivers on duty or about to enter on duty.

"2. That Directors of therapeutic preventive and medical establishments and physicians conducting examinations of applicants for driving licences shall treat persons who systematically abuse narcotic drugs as unfit for this purpose.

"3. That all physicians in therapeutic preventive and medical establishments shall bear in mind, in prescribing soporific and narcotic drugs for patients, the possibility of accidents if these drugs are taken by transport drivers while on duty. The attention of such persons shall be drawn to the fact that they must not take soporific or narcotic drugs before starting work and must use them only after the end of the working day.

"4. That control over the execution of this Order shall be entrusted to E. A. Babayan, Chairman of the Committee on Narcotic Drugs of the Ministry of Public Health of the USSR ". (Order No. 530.)