Statement of the Executive Director to the Expert Group on Internal Security|
at the University of Salzburg Salzburg, Austria
7 May 1999
Mr. Pino Arlacchi
United Nations Office of Drug Control Programme and Crime Prevention
Members of the Expert Group on Internal Security, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be with you today. I would like to thank the University of Salzburg for this opportunity to meet with you and Professor Hauptmann for organizing the event.
Information gathered by ODCCP over the past few years has allowed for a reassessment of the nature and scope of the illicit drug trade. We now have encouraging reasons to believe that the problem is not nearly as invincible as it was once assumed to be. Indeed, if there is one major conceptual advance in this recent chapter of international drug control, it is that the global drug problem is no longer seen as an unstoppable phenomenon. Empirical knowledge has swept away the mystique that once surrounded the drug trade, and the criminal organizations which handle illicit narcotics. What we see before us today, is a problem that can be overcome with the requisite degree of political commitment and financial resources.
Encouraging Developments in Drug Control
One of the most striking recent developments in drug control has been the downward trend in illicit coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia, until recently the two main coca-leaf producing countries. There was a 60 percent drop in the volume of illicit coca cultivated in Peru in 1998 compared to the level in 1991; in Bolivia, the drop was more than 20 percent. The situation is more complex in Colombia. There are indications that production has been increasing, offsetting some of the advances made in the other two countries. The Colombian government has to deal- at the same time- with a serious internal problem of insurgency. The two major guerrilla organizations -the FARC and the ELN- de facto control most of the area under cultivation with illicit drugs. President Andres Pastrana has been very actively engaged in trying to bring all parties to the negotiation table, to further the peace process, so far with mixed results. The road to peace in Colombia seems to be still paved with many obstacles, but there are signals that it goes in the right direction.
UNDCP estimates that the global potential level of cocaine production at the end of 1998 fell below 800 tonnes and was thus more than 10 percent lower than at the start of this decade, reversing the upward trend of the 1970s and 1980s. While it would be premature to conclude that coca production and consumption is on the decline, available information suggests, nonetheless, that - at the global level - we have reached a point of stabilization. That is unequivocally good news.
This progress is due to a number of factors. Several years of sustained disruption of the so-called "air bridge" linking Peru and Colombia have made coca cultivation far less profitable in some of the main production areas of Peru. Farmers are actually leaving the coca industry. The lack of incentives is preventing new entrants from replacing them. Generally speaking, strengthened law enforcement, expanded alternative development activities as well as renewed efforts in the field of demand reduction, have vastly altered illicit cultivation patterns in the Andean region.
The story is similar with opium. Following decades of increases, there has been a stabilisation as of the mid 1990s. Total world production in 1997 reached about 4800 tons, equivalent to some 480 tonnes of heroin, a level consistent with figures recorded over the last few years. Today almost 90% of the total opium poppy production is concentrated in two countries Afghanistan and Myanmar. In Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producing country, the total production of raw opium dropped to a little over 2100 tons in 1998, due to lower yields caused by unfavourable weather conditions. Myanmar, on the other hand, has been more active in the past year in trying to curtail opium poppy production. As a result, in 1998 it dropped almost 20% to about 3800 tons, equivalent to about 380 tonnes of heroin. This is about the same as at the beginning of the 1990s.
UNDCP in cooperation with the local authorities, has helped to eliminate opium poppy cultivation in countries where no one thought it could be done. In 1980, more than 800 tons of opium were produced in Pakistan. I recently returned from a trip to that country, where opium production is now down to a trickle, less than 40 tonnes. In Lebanon, notably in the Bekaa valley, once a major production area of cannabis and opium poppy, production of has been eliminated and production of cannabis has fallen to low levels. Also in Thailand, once one of the main opium producing countries in the region known as the Golden Triangle, reductions in opium poppy cultivation of 80 to 90 percent have been achieved since the 1970s. Output is nowadays estimated to amount to less than 10 tonnes per annum. Farmers today can avail of new means of livelihood as a result of a our programmes of alternative development. Reductions in recent years have been also reported from Laos, the world's third largest opium producing country after Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Poppy eradication efforts have been strengthened in many parts of the world in recent years; in each of the past four years, on average more than 25,000 hectares of opium poppy have been eradicated, equivalent to more than ten per cent of the total 240,000 hectares currently under cultivation world-wide. From these data we can start drawing an important conclusion: barring the opening of major new sites of poppy cultivation, the current levels of annual eradication - if maintained - should succeed, in less than ten years, in eliminating the global supply of illicit opiates.
Applying the same calculations to coca leaf, we could achieve the elimination of illicit coca cultivation - if current levels of reported annual eradication are maintained - in less than five years.
I would like to emphasize that not all eradication efforts are equally effective (spraying versus physical elimination), that new sites of production may, of course, emerge, and that not all areas under cultivation may have been identified. Nonetheless, even with these qualifiers, it should be clear that the pessimism that has pervaded debate on crop eradication is simply not justifiable. We need to change the vocabulary and the mind set that have accompanied drug control for the past two decades.
Of course drugs are produced because there is demand for them. It is thus encouraging that we are witnessing important developments on the demand side as well.
If we look at the United States, monthly prevalence of drug use (i.e. use of illicit drugs at least once in the month prior to the survey), fell by more than half, from 14 percent of the total population above the age of eleven in 1979 to about 6 percent in 1997. Between 1985 and 1997, abuse of cocaine, which still constitutes the most serious drug problem in the U.S.A, declined by more than two thirds, from 3 percent to 0.7 percent. The average number of monthly cocaine abusers in the U.S. - it means very serious abusers - has been reduced from six million in 1985 to less than two million today. These are encouraging news.
There are also some positive changes in Western Europe. In economic terms, the world's largest heroin market. Since 1994, there have been signs of a sustained, if slight, decline in heroin trafficking, a welcome trend following the sharp rise witnessed in the late 1980s. Most of western Europe reported a stabilization in heroin consumption. The number of new heroin users in Germany, according to official data, has declined by 30 percent over the 1992-1997 period. In Spain, emergency room visits related to opiates and cocaine fell by 44 percent between 1991 and 1995.
Though Austria was apparently affected by fast growing levels of drug abuse in the early 1990s, drug consumption is still below the West European average. The estimated 10,000-15,000 people who are considered problem drug users (users of opiates), represent less than 2 addicts per 1000 inhabitants, approximately 30 percent less than the EU average. Life-time prevalence of drug abuse among 15-16 year olds is estimated at 9.9 percent. This is 45 percent lower than the EU average. Heroin consumption in Austria seems to have stabilized over the last few years. The number of heroin related overdose cases has shown a downward trend. The number of drug related ambulance interventions in Vienna declined by 55 percent between 1994 and 97. All of this seems to indicate that the policy chosen by the authorities and - as I understand - the close cooperation of all parties involved - has started to show positive results.
Let me also take this opportunity to discuss - as I have been asked - the Swiss heroin experiment, and its potential implications at the international level.
The objectives of the experiment, which had started in 1993/94, were
Swiss authorities, say that the experiment has shown some results. The target group could be reached and brought back into a treatment environment; delinquency continued, but it fell to lower levels than before; the number of people fully employed increased from 14 percent at the outset to 32 percent at the end of the project; the overall health status was reported to have improved. 8 percent of the participants underwent an abstinence oriented treatment programme. 3 percent of participants died; this was within the range found in previous studies on mortality rates of severe heroin addicts undergoing treatment in Switzerland.
These findings cannot be generalized to other national settings. The experiment, targeting the most serious cases (about 1,000 in the test phase, and now up to 3,000 people) has to be seen against the specific background of Switzerland, characterized by a far more serious heroin problem than in most other industrialized countries. After having allowed an open drug market to emerge in the early 1990s, attracting a large number of people, the problem has started to become unmanageable by conventional means. Conservative estimates see the number of heroin addicts in Switzerland at 30,000-35,000, two to three times the number in Austria though Switzerland has a smaller population.
Once we move the discussion from Switzerland to other countries, we cross an important threshold that calls for more scrutiny and cautious analysis. At present there are those who see in the results of the experiment sufficient cause to conclude that heroin distribution could work in all countries. Holders of this view detach the experiment from the environment in which it was carried out - something that the Swiss authorities have repeatedly warned against.
I have met with the Swiss authorities and discussed with them in detail the results of their experiment. A few points of basic importance emerged from these discussions:
In Switzerland today, there is no distribution of heroin. There is prescription of hereon to individual patients. This is the UK policy since 70 years, and has nothing to do with legalization.
It should be also clear that legal heroin distribution does not solve the drug problem. It is at best an attempt to alleviate some of its worst manifestations for a small group of severe addicts. It should not distract from the main objective - to actually reduce the drug problem by actively targeting the supply and the demand side. As I said earlier, there are good reasons to be optimistic and to look beyond mere defensive strategies.
Estimates suggest that between 3 and 4 per cent of the world population abuse drugs on a regular basis, which is still far less than consumption of legal substances such alcohol or tobacco. Some 20 million people abuse heroin and cocaine. In recent years, the consumption of amphetamine-type stimulants, such as ecstasy, has increased to at least 30 million abusers worldwide.
Nonetheless, the problem is not as one-sided as we are often led to believe. For years, the story has been the same - more drugs on the market, more drug addicts, more children involved with drugs, more people in emergency rooms, more drug-related deaths. It is true that in some parts of the world, notably in many developing countries, the drug problem on both the demand and the supply side continues to grow. But, at the same time, the examples I just gave you earlier - decline of cocaine consumption in North America and stabilization of heroin consumption in western Europe - allow for an important conclusion regarding the way the drug issue is seen. What we need is a fundamental rethinking of the drug problem; the pervasive sense of looming crisis must give way to a more accurate assessment of where public policy can make a difference. Defeatism must give way to pragmatism. Skepticism must be replaced by innovation and creativity.
We wish that the policy dialogue in drug control become more empirical, less ideological. Policymakers should be better informed. Attention should shift away from issues such as the worn out debate between prohibitionists and legalizers.
What is needed to control the drug problem? One precondition for success has become evident: sustained progress in drug control depends on a comprehensive focus on both supply n and demand . The lesson provided by the experience of the past two decades is not only that demand reduction is important, but that demand and supply reduction must together form two, equally significant, parts of a comprehensive drug policy: the "balanced approach."
At the General Assembly Special Session last June, one hundred and eighty-five nations agreed to reduce the demand and supply of illegal drugs within a set time frame. A Declaration on Demand Reduction codified the "balanced approach". Governments have now ironed out a Plan of Action based on the Declaration.
In many countries, there is a need for more data on trends in illicit consumption. In order to support governments in this regard, we are expanding our efforts to share epidemiological expertise. We have formulated a Global Programme on Assessing the Magnitude of Drug Abuse to assist countries gather more accurate data on domestic drug abuse. We have set several realistic goals for participating countries:
Our goal is to obtain more reliable estimates of the magnitude of the drug problem in at least 100 countries. This would also help national drug control priorities and allow for more improved counter measures and timely feedback mechanisms. Drug control authorities in the past at both the national and the international levels acted like enterprises wishing to make profits while refusing to install accounting systems that could inform them whether or not they were on the right track. This has to change, and we are going to make it change.
An intensification of data-gathering efforts is also needed on the supply side. We are assisting producing countries to develop their own crop monitoring systems. The agreement we signed with the European Space Agency will enable them to take advantage of satellite remote-sensing, a cutting-edge technology for the monitoring of supply-side trends.
The other aspect of major importance which needs to be addressed deals with the connection between drugs and organized crime.
Criminal organizations are taking full advantage of the globalisation of the world economy and of the vast technological advances in the fields of transportation and telecommunications. They have diversified their major transport routes to avoid the more effective policing of the traditional ones towards Europe and North America.
This process often brings nations located along the new routes into danger, often leading to illicit partnerships between local and international criminals and in some cases to increased local drug consumption. Austria, located close to the main Balkan route, has been no exception in this regard. We see emerging problems in many of the central Asian Republics, and increasingly also in a number of African countries which are exploited for such purposes.
My own experiences, and a number of positive developments in the past few years, allow us, nonetheless to affirm that criminal organizations can be dealt with. In fact, every time they have been challenged with the appropriate level of resources, legal tools and political determination, they have been defeated.
In Colombia, the seemingly all powerful Cali and Medellin cartels have been dismantled. In South East Asia the most notorious war lords who dominated the narcotics trade have been put out of business. In my own country, decade-long efforts to contain the Sicilian Cosa Nostra have largely succeeded.
The myth of the invincibility of the crime cartels has been destroyed.
The fight has to go well beyond the seizure of narcotics and the arrest and detention of traffickers. Crime bosses will continue flourishing until their bribery and corruption is exposed and rooted out, until the channels enabling them to launder illicit profits are closed and until governments everywhere erect legal and other barriers to deter and discourage cross-border criminal activities.
The cross-border nature of the illegal drug trade made the United Nations the logical choice to lead efforts in combating the scourge of drugs.
Let us look at an example, which at first sight may seem far away, but which has still potentially important repercussions for western Europe: the case of Tajikistan.
Since 1991, when the country won its independence, Tajikistan has been confronted with very difficult economic, political and social problems. The civil war which broke out exacerbated the conflict already present in Tajik society and threatened the very existence of the state. During this period the Tajik Afghan border was almost totally permeable and a bag of flour could be traded for a bag of drugs or a Kalashnikov.
In recent years, Tajikistan has been confronted with a new threat brought about by the rise of extremely powerful criminal groups, which are undermining political stability throughout the entire region. New forms of crime have entered the scene including terrorism, money-laundering, smuggling and - most serious- illicit drug trafficking.
Drugs produced in Afghanistan have traditionally been destined for end-users in Europe and, to a lesser extent, for users in the United States. Improved law enforcement along the Pakistan-Iran border, achieved with the help of UNDCP in recent years, have forced traffickers to re-direct their loads through Tajikistan.
I have recently visited the country, where I met with President Rakhmanov. I traveled to the border to try to see for myself the extent of the problem. I met with a number of very honest and dedicated public officials who- unfortunately- are totally powerless to deal with well armed and politically powerful gangs of traffickers.
As a result we have moved to provide badly needed technical assistance. We advised the Tajik government to establish a national agency, -under the direct control of the President- to deal with the problem of narcotics. This new entity " The Tajik Narcotics Control Agency" will be supported technically and financially by my organization for a period of 36 months at a cost of some seven to eight million dollars. Hopefully this new entity will be operational in the coming two or three months.
In concluding, I would again focus your thoughts on one critical point. We now stand at a crossroads in our perception and response to the global drug problem. Up to now there has been a growing spirit of pessimism leading many to conclude -erroneously- that we had before us only options for surrender, compromise or appeasement. This should change. I believe that we cab reverse the situation.
The enemy can be defeated.