Drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Italy: trends and countermeasures, 1979-1990
Author: E. MAROTTA
Pages: 15 to 22
Creation Date: 1992/01/01
The author begins with a discussion on trends in drug abuse and trafficking in Italy in the period 1979-1990, when the country was experiencing major heroin-related problems and the situation with regard to cocaine trafficking and abuse was rapidly deteriorating. He then describes the organization of the anti-drug services in Italy and identifies strategies pursued by the Italian Government with a view to intensifying its activities in international drug control.
The geographical location of Italy, its 8,500 kilometres of coastline and the operations of tough criminal organizations such as the Mafia have all contributed to the country becoming one of the focal points of the world's illicit drug trade.
In the period 1979-1990, drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Italy reached alarming levels. Figure I shows the number of persons reported by the police to the health authorities and to the judiciary for drug abuse or for possession of small amounts* of illicit drugs in each year of the period 1979-1990. The total figure for the period, 126,306 persons, is particularly significant considering that the black figure, the number of drug abusers not known to the authorities, is likely to be substantial. Experts have estimated that there are 300,000 heroin- dependent persons in Italy.
*Article 80 of Act No. 685 of 22 December 1975, in force until 10 July 1990, provided immunity from prosecution in the case of persons who purchased or possessed small quantities of drugs or psychotropic substances for personal therapeutic use, provided that the quantity bought or possessed did not unduly exceed the amount needed for the treatment, and in the case of persons who purchased small quantities for personal non-therapeutic use. In the case of the latter, the substances possessed were subject to seizure, whereas, in the case of the former, only quantities exceeding immediate curative requirements could be seized. Article 98 of the Act obliged the criminal police to report such facts to the magistrate. Article 96 made it obligatory for the criminal police to notify the health authorities and the magistrate of all persons using drugs for non-therapeutic purposes.
Figure I. Number of persons reported to the authorities in Italy for illicit drug abuse or possession, 1979-1990
In the period 1979-1990, there were 5,506 deaths directly resulting from the abuse of drugs,* particularly heroin. Of those deaths, 2,943 or 53 per cent occurred in the period 1988-1990 (see. figure II). Moreover, of the 4,516 kg of heroin seized in the period 1979-1990, 2,161 kg or nearly 48 per cent was seized in the period 1988-1990 (see figure III).
Cocaine trafficking and abuse in Italy has risen dramatically in recent years. Cocaine seizures in the period 1979-1990 totalled 3,173 kg, of which 2,084 kg or nearly 66 per cent Was seized in the period 1988-1990 alone (see figure IV). More and more, criminal organizations are setting up operational bases in Europe for grading and refining cocaine; consequently, the number of foreigners -involved in cocaine trafficking. in Italy is increasing. Many clandestine laboratories have been detected in European countries; the two coca paste refineries discovered in Italy in 1988 were managed by foreigners, in close cooperation with Italians. Also in 1988, Italian authorities discovered buildings containing chemicals and equipment for the illicit production and processing of cocaine. Difficult and extensive investigation revealed that international criminal organizations had been trading cocaine, to be sold in Europe, for heroin, to be sold in North America, using an exchange rate of about 3 kg of cocaine for every 1 kg of heroin, reflecting the difference in the prices of those substances on the illicit market.
*It is difficult to calculate the number of drug-related deaths. Data on the number of drug-related deaths recorded by police authorities in Italy refer only to deaths directly linked to drug abuse and exclude indirect causes of death (hepatitis, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) etc.), "drug-triggered" deaths (deaths resulting from drug-related road or work accidents or from conflicts brought about by drug-dependent persons searching for drugs or money to buy drugs, suicides etc.), or deaths of drug-dependent persons which were not connected with drug abuse.
Figure II. Drug-related deaths in Italy, 1979-1990
Figure III. Heroin seizures in Italy, 1979-1990
Figure IV. Cocaine seizures in Italy, 1979-1990
In 1989, seizures of cannabis and its derivatives in Italy amounted to 23.2 tonnes, well above the previous record of 16.0 tonnes, which had been set in 1986 (see figure V).
In recent years, the role of maritime traffic in cannabis and cocaine in Italy has been steadily growing in significance. Illicit traffickers have increasingly been taking advantage of the fact that, because of the complex structure of ships, it is often difficult to find large consignments of illicit drugs hidden on them.
Faced with the rapidly deteriorating situation with regard to drug abuse and illicit trafficking, the police in Italy improved their operational techniques and intensified operations involving collaboration at the national and inter- national levels. The number of police operations against drug trafficking increased gradually until 1988, when the figure rose sharply to nearly 17,000 before levelling off (see figure VI). The marked increase in the number of police -operations in the period 1988-1990 is reflected in the increased number of illicit drug seizures made in that period. Figure VII shows a similar pattern in the number of persons reported to the authorities for drug offences in that period.
Figure V. Seizures of cannabis and its derivatives in Italy, 1979-1990
Figure VI. Police operations against drug trafficking In Italy, 1979-1990
Figure VII. Number of persons reported to the authorities in Italy for drug offences, 1979-1990
In Italy, special action to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking was originally undertaken by the Central Anti-Drug Service, which was set up in 1975, upgraded in 1985 with a new operational structure, and eventually given new tasks by more up-to-date anti-drug legislation that went into effect in January 1991. It is now known as the Direzione Centrale per i Servizi Antidroga (the Central Directorate for Anti-Drug Services).
Crime prevention in Italy is the main responsibility of the three national police forces: Polizia di Stato, a civil corps under the Ministry of the Interior; the Arma dei Carabinieri, a military corps under the Ministry of Defence; and the Guardia di Finanza, a military corps under the Ministry of Finance.
Through the Central Directorate, the technical branch of the Ministry of the Interior responsible for the coordination of prevention and suppression of drug trafficking, the national police forces may carry out separate activities, thereby avoiding overlap, duplication and gaps in anti-drug investigations. The Central Directorate acts as an intelligence service, communicating when necessary with the specialized services* of the national police forces, which are called upon to control all the information received that is purely related to operations or otherwise useful to the national police forces or that is needed to maintain coordination with the judiciary. The Central Directorate is the national contact point for liaison with drug control agencies outside the country.
* .In the case of the Polizia di Stato, anti-drug squads attached to police headquarters in the main towns of a region; in the case of the Arma dei Carabinieri, the anti-drug command of the Carabinieri and the anti-drug operation detachments in some of the large towns; and, in the case of the Guardia di Finanza, the Central Directorate for the Fiscal Police and anti-drug operational groups attached to the regional units of the Fiscal Police.
The tasks and functions of the Central Directorate can be summarized as follows:
Centralization of information for purposes of investigation;
Operational coordination and planning of investigations conducted by the narcotics units of the national police forces;
International collaboration (with United Nations entities, the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe etc.);
Promotion. of bilateral relations with counterpart central services and specialized agencies in countries with which. there are specific cooperation agreements;
Operational liaison, using the network of the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) for exchanging information;
Study of drug-related legal problems and collaboration with drug control agencies;
Coordination of investigations at the national and international levels;
Stationing of liaison officers from the Central Directorate in other countries, where they are attached to Italian diplomatic missions.
In Italy, particularly in the mid-1980s, law enforcement activities against illicit drug trafficking were carried out on the basis of outdated legislation. In June 1990, Parliament adopted a law that allows for more efficient operational measures, taking into account the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988  . The main purpose of the new law is to intensify activities relating to international cooperation. It calls for more severe penal sanctions for various types of illicit drug activity. It provides for, inter alia.
The possibility of delaying action by the criminal police (e.g. seizures of substances, temporary arrest, arrest) so that investigations may continue and may eventually lead to the breaking up of the higher echelons of criminal organizations;
The adoption of the technique of domestic and international controlled deliveries;
The possibility of undercover police officers purchasing drugs in order to ascertain the identity of persons in the higher echelons of criminal organizations;
The upgrading of anti-drug sections maintaining direct liaison at the operational level with the police authorities of key countries producing and shipping drugs;
The introduction of measures to control licit trade in basic precursors and other specific chemicals with a view to preventing their diversion to the illicit market;
The possibility of entitling law enforcement officers to make use of vehicles and ships seized in anti-drug operations;
The extension of the right to pursue, stop and inspect foreign shipping vessels suspected of carrying narcotics in international waters;
The utilization of funds confiscated in anti-drug operations for financing investigations and upgrading institutions engaged n drug control.
Another important legislative act, Act No. 55 of 19 March 1990, provides for the extension of anti-Mafia legislation to cover persons belonging to associations other than the Mafia that are engaged in illicit drug trafficking. It is particularly relevant to the control of bank accounts and of assets and to the seizure and confiscation of goods of suspect origin. Such legislation should enable the authorities to obtain more knowledge about the financial channels used by criminal organizations engaged in illicit drug trafficking.
United Nations publication, Sales No.E.91.XI.6.