Report of the International Narcotics Control Board on its work in 1971


The current state of international drug control
Opium, morphine and heroin
Coca leaf and cocaine
Contemporary trends and remedies


Pages: 29 to 33
Creation Date: 1972/01/01

Report of the International Narcotics Control Board on its work in 1971

The following are excerpts from the 1971 Report of the Board * to the Economic and Social Council at its fifty-second session in May 1972

The current state of international drug control

The number of countries Parties to the 1961 Convention now stands at eighty-one; but there will be general concern over the fact that only one country has acceded to the Treaty in 1971 ** and over the further fact that among those which have not become Party to the treaty are some important producing and manufacturing countries. This treaty was the culmination of successive efforts to strengthen and consolidate control over narcotic drugs and it remains the central international agreement in this sphere. The Board recognizes that a variety of factors may stand in the way of ratification or accession by individual governments and that the procedural difficulties which these present to the governments concerned may be substantial, but it feels that they are not insurmountable and that if the difficulties are resolutely faced they could be fairly quickly resolved. In practical terms the vacuum is partly filled since many governments comply with the provisions of the Convention in advance of ratification. Nevertheless it is obviously essential that so basic a treaty should carry the overt sanction of as many countries as possible so as constantly to demonstrate that the control régime which it contemplates is a reality and is world-wide. It is to be remembered that the major purpose of this treaty was to consolidate the pre-existing treaties in this field, and not until it has been universally accepted will this purpose be fulfilled. The Board accordingly renews its urgent appeal to the countries which have not yet become Parties to the Convention to do so as soon as possible.

The effectiveness of the international part of the system created by the treaties is proportionate to the degree of co-operation received from governments. Where such co-operation is for any reason withheld, or where it is diminished by lack of concern or of administrative resources, the efficacy of international control is to that extent impaired. The constant aim of the International Narcotics Control Board is to secure maximum fulfilment of the obligations created by the Treaties and to ensure that the obstacles imposed by political and administrative realities are as far as possible overcome.

* Document E/INCB/13, United Nations Sales No.: E.72.XI.2.

**South Africa acceded on 16 November 1971; Fiji declared itself bound by the provisions of the Treaty on 1 November 1971; the Parties totalled 85 when this number of the Bulletin went to press

It is fundamental to the whole system that each government should within its own jurisdiction maintain efficient national controls and to this end should apply both the letter and the spirit of the treaties: only on such a solid foundation can international controls be made secure. To enable the Board to see that this requirement is met and that trade in the substances listed in the treaties is properly conducted, it must regularly and promptly receive detailed information of all stages of licit production, manufacture, import, export, consumption and stocks of the drugs placed under international control and, in addition, of the quantities of such drugs seized in the illicit traffic.

By constant detailed scrutiny of this information, much of which is necessarily in statistical form, the Board can adjudge the comparative efficiency of national administrations and in so doing is able to supervise the operation of the international treaties, which it always strives to do in a constructive spirit. This continuous survey of transactions within the purview of the treaties makes it possible to see where national administrations need to be corrected or reinforced and where the treaties themselves may stand in need of revision; and it exposes situations which may lead to the development of centres of illicit traffic.

The information on which this scrutiny is based comes to the Board mainly in the form of quarterly and annual reports. Over the years there has been some improvement in such reporting, but there is still a substantial volume of deficiencies which detract from the general effectiveness of the international system. Long delays occur in the submission of some periodic reports and all too often months go by before the Board receives responses to requests for explanations or for additional information. Only a minority of countries offend in this way: even so, the total detrimental effect is serious.

Once again, therefore, the Board urges the governments concerned to review, and where necessary strengthen, their administrative machinery in order to remove these defects. It is clearly unacceptable that the objectives of an international system which is fully supported by the great majority of countries should be thwarted by avoidable inefficiency or neglect on the part of a relatively small number. The Board's secretariat spends much time in working with governments to remedy the administrative weaknesses which result in inaccuracies and lacunae in reporting and the Board is always ready to give more extended aid to individual administrations as far as may be possible within the limits of its staff and budgetary resources.

Where discrepancies are in this way reconciled, or faults are remedied, by the governments concerned, the Board takes no further action and only major or persistent breaches of treaty obligations are brought to world notice in its annual reports.

The following countries have failed to send complete returns for two years or more:

Sierra Leone
Trucial Oman
Yemen Arab Republic

Of even greater concern to the Board is the complete absence of official information regarding the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam and Equatorial Guinea.

In a number of earlier reports the Board has expressed the hope that some means might be found of enabling it to inform itself accurately of the situation in all countries and particularly in large areas representing a substantial percentage of the total world population, in regard to which it has hitherto been unable to obtain authoritative information. It welcomes the possibility now emerging that this hope may presently be fulfilled.

Grave as are the major gaps - some periodic, some continuing - in the international flow of information, some measure of reassurance can be drawn from the fact that over a great part of the world the network of reporting is virtually complete, even if here and there its functioning is at times irregular and uncertain.

Where failure on the part of governments to supply information derives from lack of interest of from need for administrative reinforcement the international organs stand ready to help in remedying these weaknesses as far as their resources allow. Experience has shown that one effective means of doing this is by regional training and consultative missions such as are periodically organized conjointly with the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations Secretariat to visit areas in particular need of technical and advisory assistance. In this way it is possible to include a number of officials in the discussions and thereby to promote co-ordination between the various services involved. During 1971 training and consultative missions of this kind, visited Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. A mission to Latin America which was to have visited four countries in the Andean region in 1971 will now be undertaken in 1972. The good results so far obtained have encouraged the Board to continue such conjoint action which offers an economic method of meeting the increasing number of requests received from governments for training their staffs in the complexities of narcotics control.

Where the circumstances fall within its special province the Board organizes its own missions. In situations of major importance discussions are sought at Ministerial level and the mission may then consist of members of the Board accompanied by senior members of its staff. Missions of this kind can of course only be organized after careful preparation and with the prior agreement of the Government concerned. The Board takes the view that each such mission should have a defined objective which is attainable within a relatively short period. Less formal visits may also be undertaken. For instance, a member of the Board visited Hong Kong in October 1971. Leading members of the Board are to visit Turkey in January 1972 at the invitation of the Government. At government request, a senior representative of the Board went to Pakistan late in 1970; another to Thailand in 1971...

Opium, morphine and heroin

Ebbs and flows in the illicit traffic, - occasioned by variations in demand on the one hand and by problems of procurement on the other, - have not materially altered the central position which opium has occupied since international control was first imposed. Despite the inevitable changes in the pattern of drug addiction, which have been particularly marked in recent years, one element is relatively stable: the opiates (heroin, morphine) and opium itself, are still in great demand and on an over-all view heroin remains at once the most outstanding and the most dangerous drug of abuse. Indeed in some parts of the world the abuse of heroin has reached critical dimensions; it is also extending to countries where it hardly existed before. Nothing is more certain than that the pattern of drug abuse will continue to change; it may be, for example, that the tendency noticed among some addicts to seek drugs less notoriously dangerous, and less expensive, than heroin may spread to others; but for the time being the primacy of opium, morphine and heroin in the illicit traffic is still unchallenged...


The problems posed by cannabis loom larger year by year and they are causing deep concern to many governments and to the public at large. Consumption is expanding at a disquieting rate; and numerous large seizures of contraband consignment in different parts of the world afford evidence that the illicit traffic in this substance is swelling rapidly to meet this growing demand. Earlier sources of supply are expanding and new sources are continually presenting themselves. To give only two examples, the copious streams now flowing from Afghanistan and Nepal constitute a serious challenge to the effectiveness of international control.

Expert research is in a number of countries being directed to various aspects of this phenomenon and in particular to the short-and long-term effects of abusive cannabis consumption. Thus, in the United States, a massive programme of research into all aspects of cannabis misuse has been launched under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health; and parallel studies are being undertaken in other countries. These are thought likely to yield definable results in perhaps two or three years' time. Pending further answers from scientific research, all who concern themselves in any way with cannabis, would do well to remember that its toxicity varies widely: that it depends on the degree to which active principles are present; and that this in turn depends on ecological factors, on the part of the plant from which the substance is taken and on the conditions under which it is stored and transported...

Coca leaf and cocaine

To observers unfamiliar with South America the coca leaf problem may seem to be of no more than local significance and to have little relevance to the general drug situation. In fact it has a double aspect: first, the abusive consumption of coca leaves which is of concern mainly to the governments of the countries where the coca bush is cultivated and of the countries adjoining them; and, second, the illicit export of cocaine manufactured from the leaves which is of considerable and growing concern to countries farther afield.

The chewing of coca leaves as an indulgence has been practised for centuries in and around the Andean uplands of Peru and Bolivia where the coca bush is indigenous and where it is cultivated in extensive plantations. Under the authoritative rule of the Incas the phenomenon had perhaps no particular social significance. In more recent times, however, it has been increasingly recognized as having a debilating effect on those who practise it and, accordingly, to be detrimental to the economic and social welfare of the region. Repeated attempts have been made by national and international authorities to reduce both production and consumption. These efforts have been more evident in Peru, where some progress has been achieved, but a habit so widely followed and so deeply rooted in the history and way of life of the indigenous population cannot be quickly eradicated. Consequently intensive efforts, both national and inter- national, will be required if the phenomenon is to be reduced to tolerable dimensions...

Contemporary trends and remedies

A continuing feature of the problems surrounding international narcotics control since the Second World War has been growth, persistent growth, growth in all dimensions: in extent, in importance, in complexity. As was briefly indicated in the beginning of this Report, the growth factor has been even more evident during the year under review.

With respect to dependence-producing drugs the total demand for misuse has risen substantially and illicit supply has expanded to meet it. The increase has been greater in some countries than in others, but that there has been a general extension across the world is beyond doubt. The expansion of illicit supply has been more evident with some substances than with others: the increased flow of cannabis for example has been striking, but there has also been greater traffic in heroin and cocaine.

The year has also seen more variation in the pattern of abuse. The variation has been in four broad categories: from a single drug to a combination of drugs; from one drug to another of comparable potency; from mild drugs to others of greater potency, and even from potent to milder drugs. The causes of change have been various, ranging on the one hand from a deliberate turning of abusers to substances less potent or less notoriously dangerous, or even less expensive, and on the other hand to necessity imposed by a, perhaps temporary, lack of the drug ordinarily sought by the consumer. Such changes merely underline the truism that so long as a demand of this nature persists it is likely to find satisfaction in one substance or another.

Research into the characteristics of drug abuse has not yet yielded definitive conclusions as to where the root causes may lie: how far in human personality, how far in the structure of modern society and its present-day environment. This is scarcely surprising since the circumstances vary substantially from one area to another; and in most instances more than one factor is operative. In so far as the elements are personal they may take the form of curiosity, bravado, feelings of insecurity or unhappiness - arising perhaps from broken homes - or a mere desire to follow a group vogue; and in general they may be a product of economic and social pressures arising from the growing pace of modern life. Environmental factors are to be found in increasing urbanization: they include absence of employment, or employment which is emotionally unsatisfying, and lack of suitable outlets for surplus energy, leading to boredom and a quest for artificial excitement. These possible factors are cited only by way of illustration. Because of its complexity the subject requires much careful study which it is in fact receiving at the hands of skilled researchers.

It follows that the problem of checking this phenomenon presents itself differently in different countries and at different times, that there is in fact not one common problem: rather is there a series of problems in different parts of the world. At one end of the spectrum it may involve the misuse of a single natural substance, such as cannabis, opium or coca leaf; at the opposite end it assumes greater complexity involving more sophisticated products and the abuse of more than one drug at a time.

The reactions of national authorities are naturally conditioned by local circumstances, including the degree of recognition of the severity of the problem and the extent of their available resources. It is fair to say that during 1971 there has been some progress, though there is still a great need in a number of countries for a closer alignment of national legislation and administrative practice to the requirements of the narcotics treaties.

On the other hand, it must be stressed that national responses to the challenge need to be multi-disciplinary, and that governments should invoke all the professional skills at their command which have a bearing on the health, the social and economic welfare and the education of their peoples. This is essential even where the problem presents itself in its simplest form and relates only to a single substance-as, for example, in certain African countries where abuse is at present in general confined to cannabis or in parts of South America where it takes the form of coca-leaf chewing. For experience during the current year again confirms that the infection spreads quickly from country to country and that where indulgence of this kind has become an established social custom it readily turns to other substances as these become more widely known and more easily procurable.

Equally it is more and more demonstrated each year that this is truly a world problem, and that its solution cannot be accomplished by an individual country, even within its own territory, however resourceful that country may be. This truth is now more widely recognized than ever before and the current year has witnessed some notable examples of bilateral and multilateral co-operation between governments.

The United States of America has been particularly prominent in evoking this kind of co-operation. Successes have thereby been achieved and, provided that vigorous efforts of this kind are maintained, more can be expected. An encouraging recent development has been the agreement between the Governments of countries within the present European Economic Community and of the United Kingdom to co-operate in measures to cope with the problem. Such a regional approach-directed, as is its intention, to medical prevention and care; to the spread of information in schools and universities and among the public at large; to curbing the illicit traffic; and to harmonizing national legislation and regulations on drugs-obviously carries great promise.

It is too much to expect, however, that the problem can be solved by government action alone, however comprehensive, however well-conceived. Not until each community is fully mobilized can the challenge be adequately met. It is vitally important to look beyond the visible manifestations and to seek out and strive to eradicate the basic causes of this great social problem. This approach too must be multi-disciplinary so that all aspects of the subject are as far as possible explored conjointly. Equally, these activities must be co-ordinated so as to ensure that no time is avoidably lost and that whatever skills, energy and finance can be made available will be used to the best advantage; and for parallel reasons the fruits of study must be promptly disseminated among all those who are concerned with the problem.

As research proceeds into the nature and underlying causes of the drug abuse phenomenon counter-measures are being devised on the basis of the knowledge gained thereby; and these will doubtless be adapted in the light of experience and of additional knowledge gleaned by further research.

It seems to the Board that three main aims can be followed in seeking to curtail the demand for drugs of abuse:

  1. To endeavour to check the epidemic spread by distinguishing individuals or groups particularly at risk and by protecting them as far as possible;

  2. To discover, and apply early treatment to, individual cases of addiction which may be redeemable; and

  3. To limit deterioration in severe and relapsing cases.

It would be difficult to claim success in stemming the illicit supply of narcotic raw materials. From the account given earlier in this Report on the situation in the chief producing areas it is clear that whatever contraction of supply is achieved in one region may be compensated by increase in another. Nevertheless, efforts are continuing and it can at least be said that the experience gained in the process will be useful in the further prosecution of the general campaign.

With regard to the illicit traffic, which links together the other two main elements in the problem, namely demand and supply, solid preventive work is being done in certain regions. Earlier in this report mention has been made of the successes which have been achieved by national preventive services working conjointly with those of other countries. The very magnitude of the consignments which have been seized shows that the illicit traffic is voluminous. It is clear that the traffic is skilfully organized and therefore much more intensive effort needs to be directed to this element. National authorities have increasingly been awakened to this need and their further close co-operation will continue to be required.

The Board suggests that it would be sound strategic policy to concentrate preventive measures first and more particularly at points close to the areas of original supply, where it may be possible to dam the main streams of contraband before they enter the numerous channels of distribution which the ingenuity of organized illicit traffic is able to devise...


For many years past the Board has striven to alert governments and public opinion to the menace presented by the growing misuse of narcotic drugs but to its regret found itself confronted by a lack of interest (cf. Report for 1966, para. 23) in the problems of international narcotics control.

Now the situation has radically changed. Not a day passes without some manifestation of the acute concern felt at all levels of the community. No doubt exists today that humanity is facing a world crisis: a crisis which is portrayed in the spectacular growth of drug abuse; in revival of the evil in countries where firm action seemed to have succeeded in checking it; in the emergence of new channels of illicit traffic; in the appearance in law-respecting countries of group defiance of the law; in the reappearance of dangerous substances such as cocaine which were thought to have been eliminated.

Yet although this trend has by no means been halted there is no reason to feel discouraged. Serious as is the crisis it is not the first of its kind. A grave crisis which arose in the wake of the First World War was overcome by the concerted action of governments and by a series of joint measures which culminated in the setting up of active international control.

Moreover the international aspects of the present crisis merely reflect current changes in human relations in the world at large: the spread of information; speedier means of communication and exchange; and above all the swiftly growing interdependence of mankind which man himself does not yet fully realize. These very factors must be exploited in the fight against the scourge of drug abuse: it is by united efforts that countries will be able to overcome the malefactors who are united in their evil activities.

These efforts must be made simultaneously on all planes: deployment of information and education which could serve to reduce the pressure of demand; renewed attack on the illicit channels of distribution; concentration of, and effective control over, licit production of raw materials and suppression of such production where it is illicit or uncontrolled. The initiatives taken by governments and conjoint action within the United Nations clearly show that this global strategy is now the order of the day: no more need therefore be said on this requirement which the Board has tirelessly stressed in its reports.

It is necessary, however, to re-emphasize the importance of the psychological factor in a long and arduous campaign of this kind. In the fight against drug abuse nothing is of more vital significance than the strength of the convictions by which governments should be animated. Every action or gesture on their part is significant, for it is from the determination of their governments that all those whose duties involve them in this struggle will draw their strength. The personnel of the national administrations responsible for applying provisions of the treaties are an essential instrument in the campaign, but it is from governments themselves that the stimulus must come.

One major function of the Board is, on the strength of information it receives, to prevent any slackening or failure in vigilance on the part of national administration; and their response to the exercise of this function, which relies in practice on mutual trust and co-operation, has on the whole been positive. It is true the Permanent Central Board constantly had to acknowledge that " not all governments were fully capable of carrying out their formal international obligations " (cf. Report for 1966, para. 19), and this has likewise been the experience of the International Narcotics Control Board. For this reason it has allied itself with the efforts to aid developing countries and has supported their requests. For this reason also, in particularly difficult cases, where countries were passing through economic or political stress, it has interpreted its obligation under the treaties as being rather to recognize and sustain a genuine desire to improve than to censure shortcomings which could not be remedied overnight. It firmly believes this to be its duty and it will continue to act in this spirit.

However, a new element is now manifesting itself in the present mounting crisis. The international community will no longer be so tolerant towards States which stint their efforts to meet the requirements of the treaties as it sometimes was in the past when failures did not carry the same grave consequences for other countries as they do today.