How the EU Can Help Contain the World Drug Problem

Berlin  14 May 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to attend this meeting of Europe's drug czars.

I have been asked to speak on the topic of relations between the United Nations and the European Union. This is a major topic, covering a range of issues. Obviously, in the context of this meeting I will focus on drug control.

UN-EU relations

EU policy within the United Nations shows all of the collective strengths and internal tensions of 27 countries speaking with one voice on a controversial topic.

A common Drugs Strategy provides a framework for Union-wide drug control, that nevertheless enables a degree of subsidiarity at the national level. The Strategy is based on the normative framework of the 3 UN drug control conventions. Conceptually, it is very much in line with the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs of 1998 that underlined the importance of an integrated and balanced approach, in which supply reduction and demand reduction are mutually reinforcing elements in drug policy. Furthermore, EU and UN philosophies are very much in harmony in regarding the protection of public health and the maintenance of public security as complementary components of drug control.

The EU Drugs Strategy is also rooted in the concept of shared responsibility - a concept that UNODC stresses in all of its work, whether it be in encouraging drug consuming nations to support alternative development or getting all sectors of society to assume a role in preventing and treating drug abuse.

I am glad to inform you that the EU - through contributions made by Member States and the European Commission - is the biggest shareholder in UNODC. Its financial muscle enables my Office to provide technical assistance to countries around the world to strengthen their drug control efforts at the national and regional level.

But let's be frank. Different EU States have diverging views on drug control, whether it be on harm reduction, needle exchange programmes, and drug classification. And standards of law enforcement and drug treatment vary within the Union. This is partly a reflection of politics and partly due to resource management.

That is understandable - those tensions also exist on a grander scale within the UN as a whole. It is not for me to suggest solutions. But as the most powerful block within the UN, it would be helpful to have a common EU position as well as strong leadership on a number of drug control issues with global implications. Allow me to identify a few.       

Containment is working. . . 

As you are all aware, we are approaching the end of a ten year process - referred to as UNGASS - which is designed to strengthen national capacity and international cooperation against the world drug problem. It is too early to evaluate the effectiveness of this process, but it is fair to say - especially when one takes a longer term perspective - that the world drug problem is being contained.

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.

For example, the world's supply of cocaine is steady; the world's supply of opium is limited to one region - the south of Afghanistan; supplies of cannabis and ATS - while harder to measure - seem to be levelling off. There is a growing awareness of the need for alternative development to make sure that eradicating drugs and poverty go hand in hand. I urge you to provide more development assistance and open EU markets to wean farmers off of growing illicit crops in a way that will give them a viable future.

Drug seizures are booming for cocaine and opiates, and are high for cannabis and ATS. Last week in Madrid I was at the 25 th anniversary of the International Drug Enforcement Conference. As I told them, their work over the past quarter century has had a major impact on making the drugs business much riskier.

I urge you to step up engagement in the Paris Pact in order to contain the flow of opiates from Afghanistan. Perhaps the time is ripe to create an equivalent mechanism to stem the flow of cocaine from Latin America via Africa to Europe. I also encourage you to support the creation of counter-narcotic intelligence-sharing centres in Central Asia and the Gulf, as well as a UN-brokered initiative to improve anti-narcotic border management and security between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Within the EU, the European Arrest Warrant is a good tool to catch drug traffickers who exploit open borders.

But successful containment does not only depend only on eradicating the supply of drugs and stopping their circulation. Crucially, it depends on reducing demand. And here there is much more work to be done, not least in Europe.

. . . but not well enough in the EU

Indeed, while Europe follows the overall trend of containment, there are a number of danger signs that must be heeded. Europe is a major consumer and also a large producer of cannabis. It is a major producer of amphetamine, more than 50% of all Ecstasy, and a consumer of ATS. In some European countries, the annual prevalence for cocaine is close to levels reported from the United States - in one case it is even higher. Europe is still one of the world's biggest heroin markets: reduced demand for heroin in West and Central Europe is being offset by increases in Eastern Europe and the EU's "New Neighbourhood". In short, the global trend towards containment would be even more impressive if the EU would make further progress in drug control.

Since the major problem is demand, more emphasis should be put on drug prevention and treatment.  

At the moment, in far too many cities around the world - even in Europe - treatment is insufficient. For example, centers geared to treat heroin addiction are not equipped to deal with the growing number of people seeking treatment for addiction to cocaine, amphetamine-type stimulants or cannabis. Or there is insufficient attention to early detection and outreach meaning that treatment is not reaching the most vulnerable in time. In other cases, an integrated approach is lacking: in terms of being sequenced and comprehensive, and in terms of being integrated into mainstream public health and social services. Another recurrent problem is a lack of scientific evidence resulting in ideology-based or politically motivated interventions.

What can be done to improve this situation? Let me offer you too suggestions: more knowledge and more treatment.

Time for a European Research Institute on Drug Abuse


Effective policy must be evidence-based. At UNODC we do our part through crop surveys, regional analyses and the World Drug Report. The EU knowledge base on drugs is growing thanks to reports on trafficking and drug-related crime from EUROPOL and the annual reports of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction that give a clear picture of the state of the drugs problem in Europe.

But these reports often look more at symptoms than causes. When it comes to digging deeper into scientific issues - like looking at the vulnerability of adolescents to substance abuse, the relationship between psychiatric disorders and drugs, the way social factors affect life-style and drug use, the role of prescription drugs in poly-abuse, or the relationship between violence and drugs - our knowledge is limited. We currently rely on a loose network of scholars, the odd medical journal, or NGOs. The result is often a pseudo-scientific approach, or one focused on narrow fields of interest rather than a more complete picture. We need to better understand addiction and its consequences, both as a medical condition (a brain disease) and its psychological and social causes. This knowledge could help reduce the harm posed by drugs, both to individuals and to society as a whole.  

I therefore urge you to consider creating a European Research Institute on Drug Abuse on the model of the American National Institute on Drug Abuse (also known as NIDA). This could help broaden and deepen the pool of knowledge on drug abuse. And it could improve the scientific basis of policy on a Europe-wide basis, building on the commendable work done by the European Monitoring Centre and its Reitox network. I raise this idea for your consideration, not for the sake of creating new institutions, but in order to strengthen existing ones. 

My Office is also considering how to encourage the creation of such centers in other parts of the world, and to link them all up - perhaps through a virtual network.

More Treatment 

What about treatment? As I mentioned, too many governments fail to invest political capital in preventing and treating drug abuse. As a result, they are ill-equipped to deal with the problem - and frankly they get the drug problem that they deserve. 

For example, the rise in cocaine abuse seems to have caught many European states off-guard. This is a dangerous trend. Cocaine is fashionable because it is attractive: white not dark; sniffed not injected; consumed in a living room or a fashionable night-club, not in a dark alley. It is seen as a drug for winners, not losers. To many it is a symbol of success, or a habit that they think they can control until they end up in hospital or a treatment centre.

It seems many Europeans need to be reminded that cocaine is highly addictive and harmful. And treatment centres need to adapt to deal with this growing problem. 

Furthermore, treatment centres need to be better prepared to deal with higher potency cannabis, and the threat posed by synthetic drugs.  

UNODC is trying to do its part. For the past two years, my Office has been building an international network of drug dependence treatment and rehabilitation resources centres called TREATNET. It aims to identify and develop best practice, share information, and build capacity. The idea is also to improve cooperation at the national level between researchers and practitioners. At the moment there are 20 participating resource centres world-wide, of which four are in Europe.

I want to see 100 times more centres in this network, starting with one in every major European city. Your colleagues in the Ministry of Finance might tell that it is too expensive. Tell them to add up 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 citizens from which you will reap dividends several times over.

For a Safer and Healthier World

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I urge you to work within your communities and with your government colleagues to further improve drug control so that we can reach the UNGASS targets and build on the recent success of containing the world drug problem. Drug control is a shared responsibility. For the EU, that means in particular greater reduction of demand, improved treatment, and more resources devoted to alternative development in order to ensure that drug control is sustainable.

You have major clout in defining the world's drug control agenda. I urge you to lead by example to build a safer and healthier world. 

Thank you all for your active engagement and support, and I wish you all the best in your important work.