After 100 years the international drug control system is strong, but not perfect

UN report finds synthetic drug use in the region widespread and on the rise


Internatinal Narcotics Control Board UNODC/UNESCAP INFORMATION SERVICES (Bangkok), 19 February 2009 - On the 100 th anniversary of the foundation of the international drug control system a new UN report states that in a world where information, goods and people flow freely, the control of narcotics has become more challenging than ever.

The International Narcotics Control Board's (INCB) 2008 report - published 100 years after the International Opium Commission met in Shanghai in 1909 to establish the international drug control system - states that while progress has been made challenges remain in the areas of globalization, prevention, and health-related issues.

The INCB is an independent monitoring body overseeing the implementation of UN international drug control conventions. The conventions have been adopted by most of the countries of the world, making them the most widely used tool for drug control.

"The international drug control system has stood the test of time, but it is not perfect. It is undoubtedly capable of improvement," the report concludes, going on to state that the system was built to adapt and improve over time.

South-East Asia is strongly affected by the challenges presented by globalization due to the region's position at the crossroads of the flow of goods and people.

Large amounts of illicit drugs are smuggled into East and South-East Asia from outside the region, mainly from Canada and West Asia. The most drugs seized are found in air shipments and with airline passengers, but seizures of drugs being shipped by cars and trucks as well as through the postal system, remain prominent.

Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) remain the principal drug abused in the whole region. The Philippines has the highest rate of abuse of amphetamines in the world: 6 per cent of the population used the substance in the past year. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia and Thailand, among others, also have a high rate of abuse.

The report also finds that while heroin continues to be the most widely abused drug in China, Malaysia and Vietnam, a significant increase in the abuse of ATS has also been reported. Ketamine - an anesthetic used in human and veterinary medicine - is the most commonly abused psychotropic substance in China and the drug of choice for 73% of drug users under the age of 21 in the Hong Kong (SAR) region.

The report notes that governments in East and South-East Asia are continuing to strengthen national drug control legislation while improving systems that provides for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users. China in particular has adopted a law that includes provisions of voluntary community-based treatment and rehabilitation for drug abusers. The INCB report encourages governments to make greater investments in preventing drug abuse, especially with regard to youth and vulnerable groups, and to use the experiences and good practices successfully tested in a number of countries.

The report, which also covers access and distribution of legal drugs for health related issues, encourages governments to expand the legal use of pain relieving drugs where the availability or access is limited due to cost. The INCB suggests that, in order to alleviate the pain and suffering of patients, governments should consider working with the pharmaceutical industry with a view towards making high quality opioid analgesics more affordable to the poorest countries.

The report is being launched on 19 February 2009 in Vienna, and it can be downloaded from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime web site (Regional Office for East Asia and the Pacific) at

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