Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1951




Pages: 48 to 54
Creation Date: 1953/01/01

Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1951

During its sixteenth session, the Economic and Social Council, which is meeting in June 1953, will examine the report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on the task accomplished in 1952.1 This report presents an over-all picture for 1951 of the production and consumption of narcotics, and of their illicit traffic throughout the world, as it is shown by the analysis of the statistics submitted to the Board by governments.

The reader will find below the main features included in the report of the Permanent Central Board.


The object of the control over the licit movement of narcotic drugs exercised by the Board by virtue of international conventions is to prevent licitly produced substances of this nature from being diverted to illicit ends. The statistics which governments are required to supply under the above conventions are accordingly scrutinized, quarter-by-quarter, with a view to verifying whether all narcotic drugs exported from one country to another duly arrive at their destination. In addition, the Board draws up, for each country and each substance, an annual balance-sheet of the quantities available and quantities utilized, so as to determine the balance available at the end of the year, which should correspond to the stocks declared by governments. The control also aims at ensuring that supplies (imported or manufactured) are kept within the limits, calculated in accordance with the provisions of the 1931 Convention, on the basis of the estimates provided for therein.

As regards the first aspect of this control, viz., international trade, the Board had, since its previous report, undertaken 106 investigations, of which sixty-one had been completed at the time of writing the report. They revealed no disappearances of narcotics, but only statistical errors or omissions.

The Board came to the conclusion that, in general, replies from governments have been prompt and that, in most cases, they provided all the information necessary for a decision on the case in question.

As will be clear from the above, the Board's control is very largely based on the statistics which governments have to supply under the terms of the international conventions on narcotic drugs. In all, the Board received 90 per cent of the statistical returns required for 1951.

1 For the report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on its work in 1951, see Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. IV, No. 2.

At the time of writing the report, all the principal countries in which raw opium is licitly produced had declared figures which purport to represent the quantity so produced, but which in some cases represent only the quantities taken into possession by government agencies. The statistics for countries manufacturing narcotic drugs were nearly complete: only from one of such country, and that not the most important, was the required information still outstanding. As regards coca leaves, on the other hand, the position was still far from satisfactory: to the Board's knowledge, these leaves are produced in four countries, of which the two most important had not supplied the information which the Board would wish to have.

In its last report the Board stated that the figure given by the Iranian Government for the stock of raw opium in hand at 31 December 1950 was 256 tons, whereas, according to the Board's calculations, based on the Iranian statistics, it should have amounted to 589 tons, which would imply that 333 tons of raw opium had disappeared during the year. The report went on to say that the Board had drawn the attention of the Government of Iran to the matter in a letter dated 8 August 1951, but that no reply had been received.

The explanation requested was supplied by the Iranian Government in a letter dated 14 April 1952, which represented that the apparent discrepancy was due, first, to the fact that exports had in reality amounted to 240 tons, and not to 43 tons as previously reported to the Board, and secondly, that the year's supply of raw opium (632 tons) had been reduced by 135 tons as a result of dryage and losses incurred in manipulation. As regards exports, the Board confirm that the figure of 240 tons agrees with importing countries' declarations.

No sooner had this explanation been received than another discrepancy arose - this time in connexion with the stock of opium in hand on 31 December 1951. This, according to the Iranian Government's statement amounted to 225 tons ( viz., 49 tons of raw opium and 176 tons of opium processed for export), whereas, according to the Board's calculations, based on the Iranian statistics, it should have amounted only to 22.8 tons. The Board wrote to the Government of Iran on the subject on 22 September 1952 but no reply had been received at the time of writing the report.

The Board was informed that considerable quantities of opium from Jehol had been offered for sale by the Government of the People's Republic of China. So far as the Board was aware, this was the first time that Chinese opium had been offered for sale on the licit market.

The Board therefore addressed the following letter, dated 6-November 1951, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China:

"I have the honour to inform you that the attention of the Permanent Central Opium Board has been drawn to the fact that 500 tons of opium at present in China were offered for sale in Hong Kong.

"The Board, therefore, has requested me to ask you to be so good as to inform it of the origin of this opium, the period in which it was collected, the total stocks of opium at present in China, and whether the cultivation of the opium poppy and the export of the opium are still prohibited in China."

No reply was received to the above letter, but the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations Secretariat supplied the Board with the text of a circular order of the State Administrative Council of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China, dated 24 February 1950. This circular order provides, amongst other things, for the prohibition, as from the date of its issue, of the production and sale of opium and narcotic drugs throughout the country. It therefore answers one of the questions raised by the Board, the other questions remaining unanswered however.

In its last report, the Board mentioned that considerable quantities of diacetylmorphine had been diverted from the licit to the illicit market, and that it had in consequence, asked the Italian Government "that the stocks of diacetylmorphine held by manufacturers and wholesalers should be limited to an amount representing licit requirements for about eighteen months; that any surplus stock should be kept under the direct supervision of the Government; and that no new production should take place until this stock has fallen to the above-mentioned level".

The Italian Government informed the Board that the manufacture of this drug has been suspended in 1951 until further notice. At that time, it amounted to 50 kg., whereas, in the three previous years it had averaged 235 kg. a year. Stocks had, moreover, fallen from 204 kg. in 1949 to 142 kg. in 1950 and 78 kg. in 1951, the latter figure representing an estimated 18 months consumption.

The Italian Government also announced that the High Commissioner's Office for Hygiene and Public Health was carrying into effect a new law on narcotic drugs, and that the action taken to supervise and control the production of and trade in those drugs had made it possible to " and strike at the source of supply of the Italian-American organization which in recent years has acquired and disposed of large quantities of heroin".

The Board expressed the hope that this strengthening of control in Italy would prevent a repetition of such leakages into the illicit traffic.

In the course of the correspondence referred to in the foregoing paragraph, the Italian Government indicated that the illicit traffic in diacetylmorphine discovered in Italy, had ramifications in the Free Territory of Trieste. The authorities of the Anglo-American Zone in this territory made an investigation which confirmed the existence of such ramifications and resulted in seizures of narcotics and in the arrest of a certain number of traffickers.


Throughout their tenure of office, the present Board and the Supervisory Body had been greatly exercised by the very high consumption of diacetylmorphine in certain countries. It will be recalled that the 1931 Conference recommended that the use of this particularly dangerous drug should be restricted or abolished. They had repeatedly called the attention of governments to the persistent widespread recourse to diacetylmorphine despite this recommendation and had pressed for the adoption of measures which would reduce its consumption; the Board's report for 1948 and the Supervisory Body's statement of estimates for 1949 contained the following phrase:

"The present report is being communicated to the World Health Organization, and the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Supervisory Body ca11 the attention of the Organization to the views they have expressed on the present use of diacetylmorphine and the problems in medical practice which it raises."

The following table sets out the consumption, permillion inhabitants during the past six years, in the countries to which the Board and the supervisory Body had particularly directed their attention in this respect:











25.54 17.67 38.15 16.93 5.2 4.49
2.71 5 4.26 4.16 2.31 2.21
New Zealand
4.54 3.33 2.72 2.13 1.04 2.06
2.83 4.12 1.88 2.02 2.29 2.41
2.42 3.3 4.68 4.3 4.52 5.25
United Kingdom.
1.91 1.87 2.18 2.71 2.27 2.38

The Board and the Supervisory Body were gratified to observe that as a result of these efforts there is a general trend towards lower consumption. In Australia, where consumption has increased, the Government is making a thorough enquiry into the reasons for this phenomenon.

Even more important is the growing inclination of governments to prohibit the use and manufacture of this drug. In 1951, no less than fifty States reported to the World Health Organization that they had discontinued, or declared their willingness to discontinue, its medical use, a state of affairs which represents a considerable advance since the year 1949, when only twenty-four countries had stopped such use. This trend happily continues. In Sweden the manufacture of diacetylmorphine was discontinued as from 1 January 1952, and there is good reason to hope that consumption in this country will presently cease altogether. In Switzerland also, manufacture of and trade in this drug have lately been prohibited; and in the Union of South Africa, Switzerland and a number of Non-Self-Governing Territories its use has been forbidden.

This problem continues to engage the full attention of the Board and the Supervisory Body, who are following up their action in this field in close collaboration with the World Health Organization.


The Board learnt that, in 1951 and for the first time, codeine had been converted into morphine. The government which reported this operation announced that 26 kg. of codeine had been used to produce 18 kg. of morphine, which is equivalent to a.yield of about 70 per cent.

The Board was not in a position to tell how this conversion process was likely to develop in the future and whether, in consequence, some change may be called for in the control exercised over codeine under the 1931 Convention.


In its last report, the Board referred to certain problems raised by the discovery of new synthetic and other narcotic drugs and listed for the consideration of governments a number of measures calculated to guard against the improper use of such drugs. It was gratified to learn that, on 27 May 1952, the Economic and Social Council requested the Secretary-General to draw the attention of governments to the desirability of putting these recommendations into effect.

A new synthetic drug, 3-methoxy-N-methyl-morphinan and its salts, together with the salts of all the substances previously brought within the scope of the Protocol of 19 November 1948, were likewise brought under control during the current year. Thus, at the present time, sixteen narcotic drugs, their salts and the preparations made therefrom are subject to international control in virtue of the provisions of the 1931 Convention, while fifteen others and their salts are made amenable to the same control under the provisions of the Protocol of 1948.


A. Raw materials

  1. Opium. The principal countries with licit production of opium - India, Turkey, Iran, USSR and Yugoslavia - supplied the Board with statistics under the headings prescribed by the 1925 Convention; the figures for only two countries were missing, and these are in any case countries of much less importance as opium producers - namely Laos and Vietnam.

According to these statistics, the following amounts of raw opium were produced during the years 1947 1951:










429.7 342.2 220 230.7 526.7
302.7 380.2 10.4 184.8 357.8
3.5 21.3 199.7 480.9 32.2
73 75 76 85.7 93.8
23.4 21.5 0.5 19.2 22
3.4 4.4 0.7 1 0.9
Laos and Vietnam
Other countries
0.1 0.1
TOTAL (incomplete)
835.8 844.7 507.3 1002.8 1033.4

The Board had certain reservations to make regarding the figures given above. Several of them, in fact, represent not actual production but only the amounts bought from producers by the State monopolies, and their significance depends not only on the efficiency of the control exercised in the country in question but also to a large extent on the amount of the total quantity harvested which the government agencies decide to acquire. The variations occurring from year to year are involuntary rather than deliberate in so far as they depend on weather conditions.

All the leading producing countries had supplied the Board with information in regard to the utilization of their opium. The fact, however, that the moisture content - and hence the weight - of opium changes considerably during storage greatly impairs the effectiveness of statistical control. To improve matters in this respect the national authorities should, if they are not already doing so, determine the moisture content when the opium is first acquired, while it is in stock and when it passes into utilization or export, and should declare such figures to the Board. This would enable the Board to determine the degree to which the statistics relating to production, consumption, exports and stocks are truly comparable.

The most accurate statistics supplied .by opium-producing countries to the Board are those relating to exports, these transactions being easier to control than are production and consumption. Moreover, as the importing countries declare their imports, the Board can ask for explanations of any discrepancy which arises between export and import figures.

The opium exported to manufacturing countries by the producing countries does not represent all the raw material available for the manufacture of morphine. Several countries use their own opium for this purpose,. others use poppy straw. Exports of opium to manufacturing countries show a very sharp rise during the last two years, and were 50 per cent greater in 1951 than in 1939, the pre-war record year.

For three years, India has been the only producing country exporting opium licitly to countries (Pakistan and Ceylon) where it is utilized for purposes which are described as quasi-medical. Such consumption exists also in India itself and there is non-medical consumption in Cambodia, in Laos and Vietnam, where it is met out of domestic production, and in Thailand, where it seems to have been met for several years out of opium confiscated in the illicit traffic.

In 1951, as in the years 1947-1950, most of the non-producing countries importing opium for purposes of alkaloid extraction, as well as those where it is used for other than medical purposes, duly rendered an account of the amounts supplied to them by producing countries.

  1. Poppy straw. This raw material for the extraction of morphine is not covered by the International Conventions on Narcotic Drugs. Most of the countries using it, however, notify the Board of the amounts used in manufacture and the amounts of morphine thus produced. In certain countries, the whole poppy is used, in others only the capsule, which is richer in morphine, and the yield varies accordingly.

In 1951, 11.6 tons of morphine were manufactured from poppy straw; this figure is incomplete since the statistics for Czechoslovakia were not received. Assuming that manufacture in that country was the same in 1951 as in 1950, the world total for 1951 would be 12.4 tons, the highest so far recorded. In 1947, the amount manufactured was only 4.6 tons and the increase is largely due to production in Hungary, which rose from 0.8 ton to 6.6 tons in 1951,and in Germany, where it rose from 0.5 ton to 3.2 tons during this period. By comparison with the pre-war figure (1.8 tons in 1937), the amount of morphine thus manufactured has increased sixfold.

In 1951, the manufacture of morphine from poppy straw represented 16 per cent of the total morphine manufacture; in 1947, it represented only 4.4 per cent.

  1. Coca leaves. The Board stated that, so far as its knowledge goes, coca leaves are produced in four countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Indonesia and Peru.

Only Colombia and Indonesia, which are not the largest producers, send the Board figures of their production, which, in 1951, amounted to 203 tons in Colombia and 4 tons in Indonesia. These two countries have also accounted for the quantities so produced; in Colombia, the leaves are chewed by the indigenous population, while those produced in Indonesia are exported to countries manufacturing cocaine.

The other two producing countries, Bolivia and Peru, have never sent statistics of their production to the Board; the only information they ordinarily supply relates solely to exports. These countries produce very large quantities of coca leaves, of which the greater part are chewed within the country, while some are exported for that purpose and for the manufacture of cocaine and of non-narcotic coca-flavoured beverages. Moreover, in Peru, coca leaves are also used for the manufacture of crude cocaine which is subsequently exported; since 1949, however, the Peruvian Government has not been supplying statistics in respect of such manufacture. Such wide gaps in the supply of statistical material render impossible, in respect of this product, the control which the 1925 Convention was designed to secure.

It is relevant to recall, says the Board, that the Expert Committee on Drugs Liable to Produce Addiction, of the World Health Organization, has recorded its view that "coca chewing comes so closely to the characteristics of addiction, that it must be defined and treated as an addiction, in spite of the occasional absences of some of those characteristics". The practice has been the subject of careful study by the Economic and Social Council and its Commission on Narcotic Drugs for some time past and it still engages their close attention.

For coca leaves as for opium, the fullest statistics furnished by producing countries are those of exports.

The situation during the years 1947-1951 calls for the following comments:

  1. The quantities of coca leaves exported to cocaine-manufacturing countries do not represent all the raw material made available to them for the manufacture of cocaine, for Peru also supplies them with crude cocaine. In the last five years these deliveries have been as follows (kilogrammes):






    863 1,276 383 315 134

    (It can be, estimated roughly that 1 kg. of crude cocaine yields as much cocaine as 200 kg. of coca leaves.)

  2. Since 1947, no coca leaves have been used in the United States of America for the preparation of non-narcotic coca-flavoured beverages.

  3. Argentina is the only non-producing country which imports coca leaves for chewing and all the leaves exported thereto in 1951 (154 tons) were, as in previous years, intended for this purpose.

Most of the countries which import coca leaf have duly rendered an account of their imports in 1951 as in previous years.

(4) Indian hemp. This plant is of course principally used for the manufacture of cordage. It also is the basis of certain medicinal preparations, which are not widely used (some 600 kg. a year), and which present no important problem; and it is the source of non-medicinal substances which are consumed by addicts in several parts of the world under various names such as hashish, marihuana, charas and ganja, and which are the object of an extensive illicit traffic. The statistics to be supplied to the Board under the Convention of 1925 relate only to licit imports, exports, confiscations effected on account of illicit imports and exports, plus, in respect of medicinal preparations, the licit consumption and stocks. Having regard to the fact that such information can, in the circumstances, depict only a very small part of the various operations, licit or illicit, carried out in respect whether of the raw materials or the products derived therefrom, the Board felt unable to comment on it.

B. Manufactured drugs

(1.) Morphine. In 1951, world manufacture of morphine reached a new record total of 72 tons. This excludes production in Czechoslovakia, which had not submitted figures but which, in the preceding year, had an output of 0.8 ton. The highest total previously attained was 65 tons in 1950. All the main manufacturing countries contributed to the increase, with the exception of the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany, where production fell by 3.8 tons and 0.6 ton respectively.

There has, in fact, been a steady increase in the annual output of this drug since the end of the Second World War. The pre-war record figure was 55 tons, which was achieved in 1929.

No less than 85 per cent of the morphine manufactured is subsequently converted into codeine, so that it is the demand for codeine which governs the manufacture of morphine, and it is the increase in that demand which accounts for the continuing expansion of such manufacture.

Morphine is also converted into other drugs such as diacetylmorphine, dionine, dihydromorphinone and products not covered by the international conventions; and such conversion into these products generally absorbs about 10 percent of the morphine manufactured.

It follows that the amount of morphine remaining available for use as such represents only 5 percent of the total quantity manufactured.

(2.) Diacetylmorphine. In 1951, diacetylmorphine was manufactured in seven countries, which together produced 381 kg. of this substance. They are, in order of volume of production, the United Kingdom (278 kg.), Italy (50 kg.), Sweden (19 kg.), Belgium (13 kg.), France (8 kg.), Argentina (7 kg.), and Germany (6 kg.).

World manufacture of this drug has declined substantially since 1929, when international control was first applied. In that year, it amounted to 3,621 kg., falling to 1,315 kg. in 1932, to 851 kg. In 1937, to 581 kg. in 1947, to 450 kg. in 1950 and, as already related, to 381 kg. in 1951. The latest drop in the world total is particularly gratifying, being due to a reduction of manufacture in Italy from 209 kg. to 50 kg., as explained above.

The number of countries manufacturing diacetylmorphine has also fallen: before the war there were sixteen; in 1951 there were only seven The countries which have stopped manufacturing this drug are Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the USSR and Yugoslavia; in regard to one former manufacturing country, Korea, the Board had no information for 1951.

(3.) Dihydrohydroxycodeinone, dihydrocodeinone, dihydromorphinone and acetyldihydrocodeinone. Production of these drugs rose from 587 kg. in 1947 to 966 kg. in 1948 but subsequently registered, a slight decline. However, in 1951, it was still twice as high as before the Second World War.

(4.) Codeine From the point of view both of the amount manufactured and the amount consumed, codeine is the most important chemical derivative of opium. In 1934, the first year for which statistics concerning this drug are available, 17.2 tons were manufactured. Production has increased almost four-fold since then and, in 1951, reached a total of 65.4 tons. All the main manufacturing countries contributed to the increase in production.

It has been shown that the manufacture of codeine absorbs 85 per cent of the morphine now manufactured; in terms of opium, 65 percent of the last five years' licit production has ultimately gone to produce codeine. This latter percentage has risen as a result of the substantial decline which has already taken place in the accepted non-medical use of opium; as this decline continues, the licit demand for opium will increasingly be governed by the need for codeine.

As already mentioned, a reconversion of codeine into morphine was accomplished for the first time in 1951, but this operation did not involve any large quantities: 26 kg. of codeine, yielding 18 kg. of morphine.

(5.) Dionine Production of dionine, though only a tenth of that of codeine, shows a similar trend and in 1951 reached a record figure (5.9 tons).

(6.) Crude cocaine. Except for the few kilogrammes produced in France and Switzerland in 1951, crude cocaine is now extracted only in Peru, whence it is exported to cocaine-manufacturing countries. Peru has furnished no production statistics for the last two years, the only figures supplied being those for exports. The latter are on the decline, having fallen from 863 kg. in 1947 to 134 kg. in 1951. The number of importing countries is likewise on the decline: seven in 1947, one only in 1951.

(7.) Cocaine Production of this drug has remained stable since 1948 at about 1.5 tons. This represents a considerable reduction by comparison with the prewar figure.

(8.) Synthetic narcotic drugs. Not until March 1951 were synthetic drugs brought under international control in virtue of the Protocol of 1948. In several countries, however, certain of these drugs had already been subject for some years to the control applying to drugs covered by the 1931 Convention and were included by those countries in their statistics. There are a dozen drugs at present. The use of one of them, pethidine, has developed very rapidly and is still expanding. The use of methadone shows a tendency to become stabilized; that of other more recently discovered drugs (phenadoxone, racemorphan, levorphan, for example) is only beginning and the Board had very few statistics regarding them.

The main manufacturing countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) have declared their pethidine production for 1949, 1950 and 1951, which totalled 6,660 kg. in 1949, 7,400 kg. in 1950, and 11,400 kg. in 1951. As can be seen, there has been a rapid increase in the demand for this drug (70 per cent in three years). The other countries which, there is reason to believe, produced pethidine during the years in question are Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the case of Italy, only the years 1949 and 1950 are in doubt as this country declared a production of 738 kg. of the drug in 1951.

The United Kingdom and the United States of America were the only countries to declare the amount of methadone manufactured during the three years in question - viz., a total 210 kg. in 1949, 510 kg. in 1950 and 428 kg. in 1951.


The position with regard to substances generally considered as raw materials is still very unsatisfactory.

The total licit world production of raw opium is not accurately known and that of coca leaves cannot even be conjectured. On the other hand, the statistics relating to the use of these substances for medical and scientific purposes (i.e., manufacture of their chemical derivatives) are almost complete. The same is true of the licit use of opium for non-medical purposes, though figures for coca leaf similarly used are almost entirely lacking. Accordingly, in reviewing the recent history of these substances, the only general trends which can be distinguished with any assurance are the following:

  1. Since the end of the Second World War, the reported licit production of opium shows a decline by comparison with the pre-war figures. This decline is explained by a falling-off in the licit use of opium for non-medical purposes; it is, however, partly offset by the steady increase in demand for medical and scientific purposes (manufacture of chemical derivatives such as morphine and codeine);

  2. The demand for coca leaves for medical and scientific purposes (cocaine extraction) has varied from year to year since 1947 but shows a falling-off by comparison with the figures for the period before the Second World War. It is only a fraction of the licit demand for non-medical uses;

  3. Generally speaking, the countries in which these raw materials are used for medical and scientific purposes render due accounts thereof.

With regard to Indian hemp and its preparations, as the statistics supplied to the Board under the 1925 Convention cover only some of the economic processes relating to these substances, the Board was unable to draw any conclusions from them.

As far as manufactured drugs are concerned, the position is as follows:

  1. Production of codeine (the largest in point of volume) is on the increase; and the same is true of dionine. Total production of morphine shows a similar tendency, the bulk of it (90 per cent) being used for the production of the two previously mentioned drugs. On the other hand, the amount of morphine produced for direct use tends to fall. Production of cocaine is stable, while that of diacetylmorphine shows a marked decline.

  2. The Board had only very incomplete information in regard to the narcotic drugs covered by the 1948 Protocol, except perhaps as regards pethidine, the statistics for which are already fairly complete and serve to show a considerable and rapid increase in production.

  3. It is still too early to judge how far the use of the chemical derivatives of opium may be reduced by increasing recourse to synthetic drugs; so far their consumption, taken as a whole, shows no sign of a decline.

Most countries have declared full particulars of their dealings in narcotic drugs in 1951 and the Board considered that due account of the drugs so dealt in has been rendered. The Board repeated, however, that it finds it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out a similar verification in respect of the opium and the coca leaves available in the producing countries.


To sum up, the Board felt that the matters related in the body of this report suggest certain conclusions which invite general concern. The most outstanding are:

  1. The vagueness which characterizes the statistics of the principal opium-producing countries;

  2. The impossibility of determining the licit production of coca leaves

  3. The increase in the number of narcotic drugs, which has almost doubled in the last five years;

  4. The steady and remarkable increase in the consumption of codeine during the last two decades;

  5. The ever-wider use of synthetic narcotic drugs without any significant decline in the use of the chemical derivatives of opium.