Address to MOU Ministerial Meeting


25 May 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to take part in this Ministerial Meeting of the MoU Mechanism.

Positive Trends

Not long ago, when people thought about drugs, South East Asia came to mind. Today, they seldom talk about this region in relation to drugs. Instead, they usually think of cocaine coming from the Andean countries, or heroin from Afghanistan, problems of cannabis and synthetic drugs in North America and Europe. But not South East Asia. Why?

Look at this [see chart 1]. More than a century ago China had a massive opium problem. In 1909, when the International Opium Commission met for the first time in Shanghai, world opium production was estimated to be around 30,000 metric tons.

A century later, today, we are down to around 7,000 metric tons - a drop of 75%, even though there are now three times as many people on the planet. At that time there were at least 25 million opium addicts in China alone: there are now 13 million in the world -- a 50% reduction

And look at this [see chart 2]. This chart - again with an arrow pointing steeply downwards - is opium production in the Golden Triangle - a drop of 82% in the last 15 years. This region, formerly notorious as the world's main heroin supplier, is now almost opium-free.

In short, some of the most dramatic examples of successful drug control can be seen right here in South East Asia.

Containing the World Drugs Problem

These downward trends are symptomatic of progress made over the past few decades to bring the world drugs problem under control. The word that I like to use is "containment". What do I mean by that? No, the world drug problem is not solved. Nonetheless, we have robust evidence that, on average and on the global scale, the drug problem has stabilized - whether we talk about cultivation, production or consumption. And it has done so for practically all major types of illicit drugs, with the notable exception of opium in Afghanistan (and even here the problem is contained to a few unstable provinces).

But despite this overall progress, the situation remains extremely fragile. It could be undone by an increase in production of any type of drug, or the opening of new trafficking routes, and new markets. We therefore have to consolidate the progress that has been made, and take further action to prevent a spread of drug abuse.

What can be done?

An Asian Solution

In terms of supply, we need to ensure that farmers have sustainable, licit livelihoods. It has been done in Thailand, there has been some success in Laos, and in some parts of Myanmar.

This kind of assistance needs to be scaled up. I am therefore urging development banks and international financial institutions - like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank - to support projects that will prevent vulnerable communities from slipping back into opium cultivation. Needless to say, we are taking the same approach - on an even grander scale - in Afghanistan and the Andean countries.

Reducing the supply of synthetic drugs requires a different approach since we are going after things that are made rather than grown. Frankly, Asia has a problem when it comes to the illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants, particularly methamphetamine. In addition, relatively few of these substances are being seized.

Just look at the data. Worldwide, more than 40% of all cocaine is being seized, and a quarter of all heroin. By our estimates, less than 10% of all synthetic drugs are being seized.

Since the problem is largely originating in Asia, it needs to be solved in Asia too - for example by finding and destroying the superlabs and tracking the shipment of precursors. My compliments to the Cambodian authorities for their recent major seizure of precursor chemicals.

Concretely, to reduce trafficking of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals I propose the creation of a regional drug control mechanism. Using MoU states as the core - and perhaps involving ASEAN members at a later stage - a network could be established to exchange information on traffickers and trafficking routes, production trends, and scientific data. This could improve regional cooperation and criminal justice, and cut the trade in these dangerous substances. UNODC is currently in the process of brokering the creation of counter-narcotic intelligence-sharing centres in Central Asia and the Gulf. Perhaps the time is ripe for something similar in Asia, paying special attention to synthetic drugs.

Thanks to the Palermo Convention against organized crime we have new tools for investigating and prosecuting drug trafficking, for example mutual legal assistance, extradition, and action against money laundering. It is encouraging to see that the MOU mechanism is integrating these new instruments into regional drug control policy and action.

What about demand? Demand for drugs in Asia is relatively stable. But there is no room for complacency. The global market for ATS is driven by Asia. And 55% of the world's ATS users - some 14 million people - live in Asia, most of them using methamphetamine. This is largely a homemade problem that requires your highest attention.

Ladies and Gentlemen, drugs are also coming from abroad. Recent information suggests a marked increase in the trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan via Pakistan to China. This is a sinister example of "what goes around comes around". Chemicals diverted from China are turning Afghanistan's opium into heroin. And now, increasingly, that heroin is finding its way back to China.

That suggests that tightening up anti-trafficking measures is necessary but insufficient to deal with the problem. The key is to reduce demand for drugs.

More Prevention and Treatment

To start with we need information. Do you know how many addicts are in your countries, and what they are addicted to? If not, this is a major handicap when trying to make evidence-based policy and make targeted interventions. I urge you all to carry out household surveys of drug abuse to provide a clearer picture of the current situation.

But there is no need to wait for the results in order to start taking action. A number of steps can be taken immediately. Start by asking yourselves questions like:

- Does your country have a demand reduction strategy?
- Is it based on scientific evidence?
- Does it track and respond to changing drug trends?
- Are there adequate treatment centres in your major cities?
- Do addicts get long-term treatment that reduces the risk of relapse?
- Are treatment services integrated with other health services?

You may find some of these questions awkward, but they are a lot less awkward than dealing with drug-related crime and violence, aggressive and anti-social behaviour by drug users, and an epidemic of drug addiction and blood-borne diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

These problems may become more acute as your societies open up to the world, and your citizens become more exposed to the stresses and negative side effects of globalization. As a famous Chinese saying notes, "when you open the door, some flies get in".

Yet there is nothing inevitable about the spread of drug abuse. It is a disease that can be prevented and treated.

To keep people away from drugs and to bring addicts back into society there must be more awareness and leadership raised by politicians, community, leaders, parents and the media. Drug control is too important to be left to drug experts and governments alone. It is a community-wide responsibility that requires community-wide engagement. It is as much a social and public health issue as a public security issue.

To help young people make the right choices in life, it is important that they get a good start in life, and good guidance at home. I urge you to support programmes to strengthen families, improve parenting skills, and reduce anti-social behaviour among youth.

Schools can help by teaching life-skills and discussing with young people the effects of drug use. Specialists can help develop social and problem-solving skills - problematic families and children with behavioural problems should be engaged.

Community groups can provide young people with after-school activities like sport and the arts that enable them to spend their time in a fun, challenging and constructive way.

For those who fall through the cracks, more attention should be devoted to early detection and outreach to facilitate entry into treatment. Special attention should be paid to socially excluded or marginalized people who take drugs because of poverty, psychiatric disorders or hopelessness. Treatment must be accessible, properly sequenced, comprehensive and integrated into mainstream public health and social services.

There should also be greater intervention to prevent the spread of diseases (like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis) through drug use, and greater attention to treating all forms of addiction.

For the past two years, UNODC has been building an international network of drug dependence treatment and rehabilitation resource centres called TREATNET. It aims to identify and develop best practice, share information, and build capacity. At the moment there are 20 participating resource centres world-wide, of which only one is in Asia.

I want to see 100 times more centres in this network, including one in every major city in Asia. Too expensive? Think of the cost of drug addiction - human and financial. Studies suggest that treatment is actually cost effective - both in terms of enriching society and improving productivity.

I therefore urge you to identify well-run drug treatment and rehabilitation centres in your countries, and link them up to the TREATNET. If you don't have enough such centers, I urge you to upgrade old ones or open new ones. It is an investment in the public health and security of your societies from which you will reap dividends several times over. If you need technical assistance to build capacity, my Office can try to help.

Working Together for a Healthier and Safer World

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we approach the end of the ten-year process started by the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem, there is evidence to show that drug control can work. Reflecting on the lessons learned, and being honest about the current challenges, let us work together to save our societies from the threats to public health and security posed by drugs.

UNODC is your partner, particularly for providing technical assistance. Following the example of other countries like Brazil and Nigeria (and the joint financial commitment you already demonstrated through supporting the MoU Mechanism), I urge you to invest funds through UNODC to capture our expertise in implementing your national and regional action plans which reflect international objectives.

In conclusion, I congratulate you on your individual and collaborative efforts, your commitment to drug control, your efforts to seek regional solutions, and the clear signals that you will be sending through the Beijing Declaration.

Thank you for attention.         To view graph of declining trends in Golden Triangle click here