Report of the International Narcotics Control Board on its work in 1972

Sections

General situation
Conspectus of developments during the year
Summary account of drugs under international control
CANNABIS
COCA LEAF AND COCAINE

Details

Pages: 51 to 56
Creation Date: 1973/01/01

Report of the International Narcotics Control Board on its work in 1972

The following are excerpts from the 1972 Report of the Board * to the Economic and Social Council at its fifty-fourth session in May 1973

General situation

In broad terms the pattern of drug abuse in 1972 has followed the trends observed in recent years. At all points there has been expansion: in volume; in geographical extent; in the number of people affected. The most disturbing aspect has been the increasing resort to heroin, not only in urban areas of industrialized countries but also in developing countries. Another disquieting feature is the reappearance of cocaine in the illicit market which was mentioned last year and which is becoming more noticeable in Europe. In terms of numbers of people involved the increased misuse has been chiefly apparent among drugs which many people are, perhaps too readily, inclined to regard as less dangerous. Part of this misuse appears to be experimental in character and therefore likely to be a transient element in the lives of individual consumers. Even so the general detriment to society is grave, both in the greater numbers gravitating to the more potent drugs and in the enlargement of what has been described as the "drug culture"; and it clearly has continuing implications for the moral, physical and economic health of the community. Between the two poles of the obviously dangerous substances and those assumed to be less dangerous the prevailing pattern is of multi-drug abuse. Amphetamines and barbiturates figure prominently in multi-drug abuse and there are indications that they will continue to do so.

On the other hand the very gravity of these developments has evoked a corresponding reaction on the part of governments and of the general community, expressed in the strengthening of counter-measures: local, national and international. In a number of countries private as well as official organizations have addressed themselves to particular aspects of the problem. On the world plane increased attention has been focused on the role of United Nations organs and other international bodies in the campaign against drug abuse. Intensified operations against the illicit traffic have achieved striking successes, often by national preventive forces acting conjointly with those of other countries. There has also been progress in concerted measures directed towards reducing illicit and uncontrolled production of narcotic raw materials, and governments are showing an increasing readiness to work together for this purpose in alliance with international organs. Scientific research, impressive both in scale and variety, is proceeding in several countries.

Community responses - some independent, some with official direction or support are numerous and varied, ranging from care and rehabilitation of addicts to education of young people in the dangers of drug abuse. Particularly noteworthy in this field have been the efforts to promote the collection, dissemination, and interchange of the results of scientific and general studies and to set up a network of linked information centres in selected countries.

* E/INCB/17, United Nations publication, Sales No. E.73.XI.5.

The steady improvement noticeable year-by-year in the co-operation received by the Board from national administrations has been perceptibly enhanced in recent years as the gravity of the drug problem became more and more manifest, and relations are now closer and more productive than ever before. This year representatives of the Board have visited Turkey and Burma at the invitation of the governments and more such visits are likely in the near future. Where it appears that a particular situation should be examined conjointly by all its members the Board holds discussions with government representatives during one of its sessions in Geneva.

The prospect of universal application of the international system of control was brought appreciably nearer during the year when the Board entered into direct contact with the People's Republic of China, giving rise to hopes that full collaboration with the authorities of that country may soon be attained.

. . . .

Perhaps the most significant development during the year has been a deepening realization at all levels of society that the already grave phenomenon of drug abuse is becoming more pervasive and that so complex a problem can only be successfully met by a sustained, united effort on the part of the community at large and of governments acting in concert with one another.

Conspectus of developments during the year

. . . That the abusive consumption of narcotic and other dangerous drugs is still increasing in volume and in geographical expanse is indisputable. Mankind's resort to such substances has always been characterized by ebbs and flows. The present tidal flow first began to be apparent in the early 1960s, and it is still swelling.

. . . Of all recent variations in trends of addiction the most significant is that whereas in the early 1960s abusive consumption was mostly related to single drugs the tendency now is more and more towards multidrug abuse. This is an ominous change. For one thing the toxic effect of a given drug may be and often is greatly enhanced by consumption together with another drug. An even more important implication is that the problem as a whole is thereby rendered less amenable to control measures directed to the production of drugs of abuse; for in the situation now emerging, if the supply of a particular substance is curtailed, consumption merely assumes another form . . .

There have been more instances of bilateral and multilateral co-operation between government forces. It is fair to say that direct co-operation between two countries is ordinarily more productive than co-operation between groups of countries; but both forms of co-operation are necessary and both have shown themselves to be valuable. The most obvious benefits of bilateral co-operation have been in respect of illicit traffic and some spectacular seizures of contraband drugs have been reported during the year, including not only large quantities in transit but also manufacturing units for the conversion of opium or morphine into heroin. The very size of the consignments which have been captured is eloquent testimony to the dimensions of the illicit traffic at the present time and to the high profits exacted by those participating in it.

The curtailment of production of narcotic raw materials on the other hand is necessarily a more gradual process and particular achievements along this road can only be looked for at wide intervals. But one outstanding success can now be registered: 1972 will be notable as being the last year of authorized cultivation of the opium poppy in Turkey. The Government's decision to put an end to a form of cultivation which has been practised in that country for many centuries is an historic event. Its fulfilment will represent an important milestone on the path towards eventual limitation of all opium poppy cultivation strictly to the quantities required for medical and scientific purposes. This path is likely to be long and difficult, strewn with obstacles and frustrations especially when in due course it is extended to countries where production is at present uncontrolled. Effective application of Turkey's ban on poppy cultivation will necessarily depend on the success of the agricultural reforms and other supporting long-term measures which are already in process. The final success of this enterprise will be facilitated if material and financial aid can continue to be given where necessary.

The counter measures introduced or carried forward by governments have been further supplemented during the year by increasing co-operation from the general community. More especially in industrially developed countries growing numbers of medical and social scientists have spontaneously brought their skills and experience to bear on aspects of the subject within their individual purview. The published results of their researches are a valuable contribution to the fuller understanding of the problem which is so urgently necessary at the present time. In the field of care and rehabilitation also there has been useful work by non-official bodies, particularly in Europe and North America. Such activities are doubly valuable, both as evidence of the sympathetic concern of the community and because it seems that help from private bodies is sometimes more readily accepted by addicted persons than the care and protection provided by the State.

Summary account of drugs under international control

OPIUM, MORPHINE AND HEROIN

. . . Opium as such is still taken as an indulgence by large numbers of people in different parts of the world, who consume it orally (in solid or liquid form) or by smoking; but this practice is now almost entirely confined to certain regions where the opium poppy is grown.

Elsewhere the staple element in opiate addiction is heroin. This is most in evidence in North America but it has also penetrated other highly developed countries, more especially in centres of urban concentration. For some years, however, it has been replacing opium in certain developing countries where resort to opium was long a traditional indulgence and here the disquieting feature is that it is infecting the younger members of the population.

Hitherto opium to meet the illicit demand for heroin has been drawn partly by leakage from authorized poppy cultivation and partly from illicit or uncontrolled production. The former source of supply, already diminished by the progressive reduction of the area of poppy cultivation in Turkey, will be sharply curtailed by the Government's ban on such cultivation and when the privately held stocks of opium in that country are exhausted the illicit market will be forced to seek other sources. It may conceivably be able to attract more from the remaining centres of authorized cultivation by offering higher temptations to farmers; but controls in such centres are very strict and in the main it will be obliged to look to areas where poppy cultivation is illicit or uncontrolled. Traffickers have been quick to avail themselves of the facilities for contraband movement which are afforded by the local terrain in the countries concerned and have set up supply routes which are already carrying large quantities of opium, crude morphine and heroin - and in some places of cannabis as well.

In response to this growing threat the preventive forces, national and international, are joining hands in what looks likely to be a long-drawn-out campaign. For they face immense and deep-seated handicaps, of a kind inevitable in regions which are at a low - even, in some parts, primitive - stage of economic development. Two areas which present the strongest immediate challenge are: South Central Asia, embracing Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which share frontiers with Iran; and South East Asia, particularly the limitrophe regions of Burma, Laos and Thailand. Both areas have long been enmeshed in the international illicit traffic; and in both areas the traffic is likely to expand further unless vigorous remedial measures are applied. All the countries comprised in the two areas have some form of preventive establishment for checking the movement of contraband, though in parts of their jurisdictions these are at times hampered by disturbed conditions; and in some of the countries the preventive forces have latterly been strengthened. It is abundantly clear that such restraints as these law enforcement staffs are able to impose cannot suffice to stem the outward flow of narcotic and other dangerous substances available within the area. If the situation is to be corrected this can only be brought about by regional co-ordination in each of the two groups of countries, and to this end the national preventive systems should be mutually adapted as integral parts of a coherent regional whole. Such a fusion could hardly be effected without some degree of external guidance and to make this acceptable it would in certain cases have to be given on a multilateral basis and preferably through the instrumentality of a United Nations organ. Substantial financial and material aid would also be needed since the countries involved lack the requisite resources to train and equip an adequate and fully competent preventive establishment. Even less can they command the means of devising and carrying into execution comprehensive agricultural and social reforms on such a scale as to ensure permanent replacement of poppy cultivation by other crops.

Action in the two areas - not the least difficult part of which will be to induce active co-operation by all the members of each group - should be simultaneous, so as to avoid the risk that success in one area may merely divert traffic to the other.

Such a series of combined operations, to be conducted in territories which are difficult of access, may seem a herculean task but it should clearly be attempted since only in this way can persistent replenishment of contraband supplies from these sources be extinguished.

CANNABIS

The upsurge in cannabis consumption noted in the Board's last report has continued through 1972. It is impossible to assess the dimensions with any pretence to accuracy, but the total number of consumers in the world today is extremely large and can indeed be reckoned in millions.

. . . It is characteristic of the illicit market that the quality of what it offers for sale is not consistent, that it varies from place to place and from time to time; and that even in a given area it does not correspond to a known standard. An authoritative recent report to the Congress of the United States of America stated that the cannabis sold in that country" is extremely variable, ranging from psychoactively inert at the one extreme to hallucinogenic in large doses at the other ". The report went on to say that what is generally available there "tends to be considerably less potent than that found in some South American countries and in other parts of the world ". So long as this remains the case the dangers to consumers in the United States are to that extent reduced, but the more potent forms of cannabis are finding their way into the illicit traffic in North America. In illicit channels in Europe it is the more potent forms which predominate.

. . . Abuse of cannabis is not always in the form of smoking. It is reported that cannabis has been available, even to children, in the form of sweets and that injectable solutions of tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal active ingredient, had been seized in the illicit market. More recently still cannabis oil of high potency has been found in illicit channels. Having a very much higher tetrahydrocannabinol content than even cannabis resin, this substance would obviously present a grave threat if it were to be produced in substantial quantities.

In the face of these and similar reports it would clearly be difficult to contemplate relaxation of the present control régime. On the other hand governments and society as a whole obviously cannot but view with disquiet the possibility that the law might be brought into contempt by continuing widespread defiance of its provisions in regard to cannabis.

COCA LEAF AND COCAINE

The situation in regard to these substances has undergone little marked change during the year and regrettably nothing has occurred to moderate international concern which is felt in regard to the extensive coca bush cultivation in the Andean region, especially in Bolivia and Peru. This concern rests firstly on the consumption of coca leaves by the inhabitants of the provinces where the bush is grown and of adjoining areas, and secondly on the scope which the present over-production offers for clandestine manufacture of cocaine and export into illicit channels.

Coca leaf chewing is a traditional indulgence which has been practised for centuries in these regions and because of its long continuance it would in any case be difficult to eradicate; but it is also a concomitant of poverty and undernourishment and, considered from this standpoint, its elimination can hardly be looked for in advance of major economic and social reforms on a wide scale - reforms which would also have to take account of such periodic natural disasters as earthquakes and drought. Evidently therefore success can only come gradually and by means of substantial external aid, financial and technical, which if the reforms are to have an enduring effect should be on a scale sufficient so to raise the subsistence level as to reinvigorate the people and enable them to create and sustain their own economic growth.

The debilitating, often demoralizing, effects of excessive coca leaf chewing, coupled with the fact that the practice is not infrequently associated with alcoholism, make it essential on broad humanitarian grounds alone that organized cultivation of the coca bush should be terminated as soon as possible. But this need acquires additional sharpness and urgency from the fact that the present over-production provides material for clandestine manufacture of cocaine to supply the illicit traffic. This outflow has expanded in recent times and present indications are that it will continue to grow in volume as cocaine becomes more and more a feature of multi-drug abuse.

Economic justification for continuance of a commodity so fraught with social hazards to the general community is hard to see - the more so when the hazards are not confined to the countries of production but extend also to countries far afield. The use of cocaine in medicine is fast disappearing, though it is said that some practitioners find it preferable to the alternative local analgesics now available. The remaining legitimate use of coca leaves is as a flavouring agent for beverages. The quantity of leaves required for these purposes is but a tiny fraction of the total coca leaf crop.

With all these considerations in mind the Board has long striven by all the means at its command to bring about a progressive amelioration of the problem. In Peru some measure of reform has been achieved in recent years and more is in prospect. In Bolivia, so far as the Board is aware, there has been none. In 1964 negotiations instituted by the Board led to the despatch of a Mission which resulted in a formal agreement between the Government and the Board on a programme of progressive reduction of coca cultivation and consumption, but a change of Government caused this to lapse. A follow-up Mission by the Board renewed this agreement in 1966 but again no action appears to have resulted.

In 1972 the Board was invited to send a further mission to Peru and Bolivia to study the current situation and the visit will take place early in 1973.