Legal trade in narcotics in 1952


The report of the Permanent Central Opium Board 1 to the Economic and Social Council on its work during 1953 2 is on the agenda both of the ninth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in April 1954, and the eighteenth session of the Council. This report presents an over-all picture for 1952 of the production and consumption of narcotics, and of their licit traffic throughout the world as it is shown by the analysis of the statistics submitted to the Board by governments.


Pages: 39 to 43
Creation Date: 1954/01/01


Legal trade in narcotics in 1952

The report of the Permanent Central Opium Board 1 to the Economic and Social Council on its work during 1953 2 is on the agenda both of the ninth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in April 1954, and the eighteenth session of the Council. This report presents an over-all picture for 1952 of the production and consumption of narcotics, and of their licit 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 Opium Board.


The main object of the control exercised by the Board over the licit movement of narcotic drugs is to prevent licitly produced substances of this nature from being diverted to illicit use. To this end, the statistics which governments are required to supply under the international conventions are 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 the quantities utilized, and so determines 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 by the Board in accordance with the provisions of the 1931 Convention, on the basis of the estimates provided for therein.


In its last report to the Economic and Social Council the Board noted that in 1951, for the first time, codeine had been converted into morphine, 26 kg. of codeine being used to produce 18 kg. of morphine. When asked for further details, the government of the country which reported the operation explained that the morphine had in fact merely been recovered from the residues of codeine manufacture.


Document E/OB/9, United Nations, Geneva, 1953.


For the report of the Permanent Central Opium Board on its work in 1951, see Bulletin on Narcotics, vol IV, No. 2; for the report in 1952, see Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. V, No. 1.


  1. Raw materials

    1. Opium

      The principal countries which produce opium licitly - Turkey, India, Iran, USSR and Yugoslavia - have supplied the Board with statistics relating to their production as prescribed by the 1925 Convention. Only two countries - namely, Laos and Viet-Nam- have failed to supply figures and these are, in any case, countries of much less importance as opium producers.

      According to these statistics, the following amounts in tons of raw opium were reported as produced during the years 1948-1952:

      Laos and Viet-Nam
      Other countries
      TOTAL (incomplete)

      There are various possible reasons for the quite considerable variations in the declared production figures. Some of these reasons, such as changes in the acreage sown or fluctuations due to weather conditions, present no particular difficulty from the standpoint of control. There are others, however, which merit the Board's attention, in particular the fact that governments, instead of declaring actual production, declare the amounts bought from producers by State monopolies. The significance of such production figures therefore depends not only on the efficiency of the control exercised in the countries in question but also to a large extent on the proportion of the total quantity harvested which the government agencies decide to acquire.

      All the leading producing countries have supplied the Board with all the statistics prescribed by the 1925 Convention in regard to the utilization of their opium. The fact, however, that the moisture content - and hence the weight - of opium changes considerably during the period between harvest and utilization greatly impairs the effectiveness of statistical control.

      Of the statistics supplied by opium-producing countries, the ones which are most subject to independent check are those of exports, as they can be compared with the reports which come in from importing countries.

      Compared with the levels reached in 1950 and 1951 (751 and 754 tons, respectively), exports from the producing countries declined by one-third (to 511 tons) in 1952 owing to the reduction in exports to manufacturing countries (from 743 tons in 1951 to 482 tons in 1952). Exports to countries where opium is utilized for non-medical purposes showed an increase - from 11 tons in 1951 to 29 tons in 1952, but these exports now represent only a negligible proportion (6 per cent) of producers' total exports. The drop in exports to manufacturing countries has not been accompanied by a reduction in the manufacture of morphine; these countries have, in fact, drawn on their opium stocks or have made greater use of another raw material - poppy straw (see paragraph (b) below).

      In recent 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. In 1952, Iran also exported opium to Pakistan. Quasi-medical consumption of opium exists in India itself and there is non-medical consumption in Cambodia, in Laos and Viet-Nam, where it is met out of domestic production. In Thailand requirements for non-medical purposes appear to have been met for several years out of opium confiscated in the illicit traffic.

    2. Poppy straw

      This raw material 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: the yield varies accordingly.

      The steady increase in the manufacture of morphine from this raw material continued in 1952, reaching the highest figure so far recorded, namely, 16.9 tons. The figure was only 11.7 tons in 1950, the last year previous to 1952 for which complete statistics were available; it then represented only 18 per cent of the total morphine manufactured. In 1952, this proportion had reached 22 per cent.

    3. Coca leaves

      So far as the Board is aware, 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 1952, amounted to 198 tons in Colombia and 17 tons in Indonesia. These two countries have also accounted for the quantities so produced: in Colombia, the leaves are chewed by the indigenous population; those produced in Indonesia are exported to cocaine-manufacturing countries.

      The other two producing countries, Bolivia and Peru, have never sent statistics of their production to the Board. The extent of production in Peru can, however, be gauged from the estimates recently submitted by that country to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, according to which the average annual production from 1943 to 1949 was 7,500 tons. Neither Bolivia nor Peru declares the quantities of coca leaves chewed in its territory. The data supplied to the Board by these two countries normally refer only to their exports.

      Such gaps make it impossible for the Board to exercise the control over this product which the 1925 Convention entrusted to it.

      For coca leaves as for opium, the fullest statistics furnished by producing countries are therefore those of exports. In 1952, according to these statistics, 323 tons were exported to cocaine-manufacturing countries and 219 tons to Argentina, which is the only non-producing country where coca leaves are chewed. The increase in exports from the producing countries to cocaine-manufacturing countries which has been noted over the last two years may be attributed to the fact that, since 1948, manufacturers of cocaine have been making less and less use of crude cocaine from Peru as a raw material, so that in 1952 Peru exported none.

    4. Indian hemp

      The Board has nothing to add to its observations on the subject made in its previous report.3


    1. Morphine

      Since the end of the Second World War, world manufacture of morphine has constantly increased from year to year. In 1952, production amounted to 75.7 tons, or 3.1 tons more than that reported in 1951, which did not include production in Czechoslovakia. That country's output in 1952 was 1.2 ton.

      Not all the morphine-producing countries contributed to this increase, and in some the opposite tendency was observed. The main increases and decreases are as follows, in tons:

      + 2.1
      + 1.6
      + 1.4
      Federal Republic of Germany
      + 1.2
      + 0.9
      United Kingdom
      - 2.3
      - 1.9
      - 1.0
      - 0.6

      In 1952, 82 per cent of the morphine manufactured was subsequently converted into codeine (84 per cent in 1951), so that it is the demand for codeine which governs the manufacture of morphine, and it is the steady increase in that demand up to 1951 which accounts for the expansion of such manufacture. However, in 1952, for the first time since codeine was brought under international control, the manufacture of this drug declined. Should this trend continue, morphine manufacture may well prove to have reached its peak in 1952.

      Morphine is also converted into other drugs such as diacetylmorphine, dionine, hydromorphone (dihydromorphinone) and products not covered by the international conventions; but such conversion absorbed only 8 per cent of the morphine manufactured in 1952 (10 per cent in 1951).

      It follows that the amount of morphine remaining available for use as such represented 10 per cent of production in 1952 (against 6 per cent in 1951). This rise does not mean that the demand for morphine as such increased, but rather that stock levels were raised.

    2. Diacetylmorphine

      Manufacture of this drug declined from 381 kg. in 1951 to 120 kg. in 1952. In the latter year it was manufactured in only five countries. They are, in order of volume of production, the United Kingdom (88 kg.), Belgium (16 kg.), Argentina (9 kg.), France (5 kg.) and Hungary (2 kg.).

      Thus the steady drop in world production of this drug, which has been noted in recent years, became more marked in 1952 owing to the decline in production in the United Kingdom and the cessation of production in Italy, Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany.

    3. Codeine

      Codeine is the most important chemical derivative of morphine, both in respect of volume of production and of consumption. Since this drug was brought under international control, in pursuance of the 1931 Convention, production has steadily increased, reaching a total of 66.5 tons in 1951. In 1952, it declined, for the first time, to 63.8 tons. The figures for both 1951 and 1952 are incomplete: data are lacking for Czechoslovakia in 1951 and for Spain in 1952. The latest production figure declared by Czechoslovakia (for 1952) and by Spain (for 1951) was approximately one ton each.

    4. Dionine

      World production of dionine rose steadily until 1949; since then it has varied rather considerably (4.7 tons in 1949, 3.6 tons in 1950, 6.2 tons in 1951 and 5.1 tons in 1952). The lack of figures for Czechoslovakia in 1951 and Spain in 1952 has very little effect on the world total, since the production of neither country is important.

    5. Other derivatives of opium alkaloids4

      The figure for world manufacture of these drugs for 1952 - namely, 1,156 kg. - is incomplete, the production in Spain (in 1951:107 kg.) not yet being known.

      Total production in 1951 amounted to 1,038 kg. The 1952 statistics cover a larger number of such drugs, several of which were recently brought under international control in pursuance of the 1931 Convention (article II) or the 1948 Protocol.

    6. Cocaine

      World production of cocaine, which fell in 1950 to the lowest level yet recorded by the Board (1,284 kg.), subsequently rose to 1,515 kg. in 1951 and to 2,142 kg. in 1952. Production in the latter year, however, remained lower by nearly half than before the Second World War.

      The increase in production in 1952 did not correspond to a higher demand for consumption, the latter remaining more or less the same as in previous years, but rather to an increase of stocks.

    7. Synthetic narcotic drugs

      In 1952, for the first time, the Board had at its disposal statistics for a complete year in regard to synthetic narcotic drugs. In view of the fact that several countries had subjected for some years certain of these drugs to national control and supplied statistics on them, it is possible to some extent to analyse trends in their movement.

      The most important of these drugs, as regards volume of production and consumption, is pethidine. Production of pethidine, which developed very rapidly, seems to have become stabilized in 1951 and 1952 at about 12 tons (12.2 tons in 1951 and 11.6 tons in 1952).

      The production of methadone, which is second in volume, is declining. It fell from 521 kg. in 1951 to 381 kg. in 1952; but these figures are incomplete, since the Federal Republic of Germany; which is among the countries manufacturing this drug, did not bring it under control until 1953.

      The other synthetic narcotic drugs (for example, phenadoxone and levorphan) are recent discoveries, and only since 1952 has the Board had approximately complete statistics. According to these statistics, the production of these drugs amounted to 282 kg. in 1952.


See Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. V, No. 1.


Namely, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, acetyldihy-drocodeinone, dihydrodesoxymorphine, metopon, benzylmorphine, pholcodine, nalorphine, dihydrocodeine and acetyldihydrocodeine.


The Board and the Supervisory Body have for some years past been deeply concerned at the large quantity of diacetylmorphine passing into illicit consumption.

In general, this consumption is supplied from illicit sources, but so long as this drug is extensively used in medicine there is always the danger of supplies being diverted from the licit into the illicit market, and the risk of adding to the number of addicts continues.

The Board and the Supervisory Body have accordingly called the attention of governments repeatedly to the recommendation of the 1931 Conference that the use of this drug should be curtailed or brought to an end; and they have enlisted the co-operation of the World Health Organization.

The subject has indeed occupied the mind of the latter organization for some years, and at its Sixth Assembly the World Health Organization unanimously adopted a resolution recommending the abolition of the importation and production of the drug.5

The following table sets out the scale of licit consumption during the past six years in the countries to which the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Supervisory Body have particularly directed their attention in this respect. They are pleased to observe the diminution which has taken place during these years.

Consumption of diacetylmorphine per million inhabitants (In kilogrammes)

New Zealand
United Kingdom

Consumption has also declined in countries other than those mentioned in the foregoing table, and in some countries it has stopped altogether. Indeed, the fall in the world consumption during the last two decades has been remarkable. In 1929, just after the 1925 Convention came into force, world consumption of diacetylmorphine was 2,651 kg.; by 1948, it had fallen to 657 kg.; and by 1952, it was further reduced to 266 kg.

In the Board's report for 1948, and in the introduction to the Supervisory Body's statement of estimates for 1949, twenty-four countries were listed which, at that time, no longer used diacetylmorphine at all. Since then, according to the statistics and estimates furnished to these two bodies, the following countries have also discontinued its use:

Saudi Arabia
Germany (Federal Republic)
South Korea

Moreover, Australia, Sweden and the Union of South Africa have declared that they are now using up their stocks of this drug, after which its use will be terminated.

The Board and the Supervisory Body are gratified at these developments. The problem continues, however, to engage their full attention, and they are maintaining their close collaboration with the World Health Organization.


The Board was established in 1928 when the Convention of 19 February 1925 entered into force: 1953 is therefore the year of its twenty-fifth anniversary.

The Board feels that it would be of interest on this occasion to end its report with a brief review of the evolution of the narcotic drugs problem during the last quarter of a century. This evolution is remarkable both for the growth of the campaign against the use of narcotic drugs for non-medical purposes and for the results achieved thereby.


See Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. No. 3.

In 1929, the first year for which governments supplied the Board with the information prescribed in the 1925 Convention, the consumption of opium for non-medical purposes was permissible in eighteen countries and territories of Asia, and in most of these the sale to addicts was a monopoly of the State. During the years that followed, several of the governments concerned abolished their respective monopolies and prohibited opium smoking, so that in 1953 consumption for this and other nonmedical purposes had ceased to be licit except in seven of these countries or territories, and the most important of these is now taking steps to bring such consumption gradually to an end with a view to total prohibition in 1959. The total quantity of raw opium used licitly for non-medical purposes amounted to 1,585 tons in 1929 and to only 166 tons in 1952.

Likewise, in 1929 world production of morphine amounted to 55 tons. In the light of studies made at the time, the League of Nations' Adisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs concluded that an annual average of 15 tons of that drug had been finding its way into illicit traffic during the years 1925 to 1929. This estimate appears conservative when it is recalled that the average annual production fell by 25 tons during the years 1930 to 1935 without any shortage being felt on the licit market. Production has since increased steadily, reaching 75 tons in 1952, but practically all (90 per cent) of the morphine so produced is used for the manufacture of other drugs, and mainly for codeine and dionine which are little liable to produce addiction. The production of morphine for use as such fell from 13 tons in 1929 to 7 tons in 1952. Similarly, the production of cocaine, which amounted to 5,700 kg. in 1929, fell to 2,140 kg. in 1952; and here again no shortage was felt on the licit market. A fall which is even more striking is that in the licit production of diacetylmorphine (heroin), the drug most favoured by addicts; this shrank from 3,620 kg. in 1929 to 120 kg. in 1952.

Before the international control machinery was created traffickers and drug addicts were able to obtain supplies without great difficulty from licit manufacturers and traders. Today their access to such sources is barred, since the control imposed by the 1925 and 1931 Conventions extends over all licit dealings in narcotic drugs.

If, moreover, synthetic drugs had appeared on the scene before this machinery was set up, they would no doubt have given rise to the same abuses as the "old" drugs. The adoption of the Protocol of 19 November 1948, made it possible to bring these drugs also under the provisions of the 1925 and 1931 Conventions and thus meet that danger.

The success so far achieved cannot be attributed only to the activities of international bodies. The credit in the first place should go to the governments which have striven to achieve a common purpose and to build up the organization requisite for the establishment of international control over narcotic drugs.

The efforts of governments or of the international organizations would not in themselves have sufficed to bring about so great a change in the situation obtaining in 1929 if the governments or these bodies had acted independently of each other. Close collaboration between them was essential as was also the support of world public opinion.

These efforts will be no less indispensable in the future, both in consolidating the results so far achieved and in improving still further the national and international systems of control. As is evident from other chapters of this report, a considerable illicit traffic still exists and even appears to have recrudesced during the last three years; so that, while it has become increasingly difficult for traffickers to obtain supplies from licit sources, they have by no means ceased to operate. Since enormous profits are to be made from supplying narcotic drugs to addicts, traffickers are ever ready to exploit any weakness in control systems and do not hesitate to set afoot clandestine production. Despite the risks involved, such production will remain feasible until governments of the opium- and coca-leaf-producing countries and of certain manufacturing countries remove from their control systems those weaknesses which have been mentioned elsewhere in this report. Furthermore, the clandestine production of Indian hemp, which is the basis of hashish (or marihuana), continues to present a very serious problem.

The conclusion is inescapable that the success of international control measures rests in fact on the efficiency of national control systems, which in turn requires that the services which operate these systems should be provided with adequate means to carry out their task. So far as the Board is concerned it will not relax its efforts and will loyally assume such additional tasks as may reasonably be laid upon it.