Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1954
Estimated World Requirements of Narcotic Drugs in 1956


Pages: 33 to 36
Creation Date: 1956/01/01


Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1954

The Report of the Permanent Central Opium Board 1 to the Economic and Social Council on its work during 19552is on the agenda both of the eleventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the twenty-second session of the Council. This report presents an over-all picture for 1954 of the legal trade in narcotics throughout the world at it is shown by the analysis of the statistics submitted to the Board by governments, in pursuance of the international Conventions of 19 February 1925 and 13 July 1931, and the Protocol of 19 November 1948. A brief summary of the main features included in the report of the Permanent Central Opium Board follows.


Raw Materials
(a) Opium

In 1952 and 1953, the licit production of opium had exceeded requirements and large stocks were piling up, mainly in the producing countries, so that at the end of 1953 the amount of opium available in those countries and in the morphine-manufacturing countries would have been enough to meet the world's licit requirements for two and a half years.

In 1954, licit production was considerably reduced and demand increased, so that it became necessary to draw upon stocks to meet requirements. At the end of the year, stocks were sufficient to meet the world's requirements for about two years.

The Board continues to feel some concern with regard to available supplies of opium, by reason of the fact that governments are not invariably able to ensure that all opium harvested is surrendered to them and their production figures accordingly represent only the quantities bought from producers by State monopolies. Positive evidence that the Board's apprehensions in this respect are well founded has been provided this year by the disclosures in Iran. The amount of opium delivered to the State monopoly by Iranian producers during the last ten years, which was said to represent total production, averaged 140 tons a year from 1945 to 1954. According to statements made by the Health Minister of Iran at a press conference in Teheran on 4 August 1955, however, the actual production amounts to between 700 and 1,200 tons a year. It follows that the production in excess of the quantities delivered to the State monopoly must have entered the illicit traffic. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the seizures of illicit opium in different parts of the world clearly indicate that similar diversion is occurring in other producing countries, though it is impossible to estimate the total quantities so diverted.

The total world declared production fell from 1,295 tons in 1953 to 773 tons in 1954 - that is, by 40 per cent.


Document E/OB/11, November 1955.


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 on 1952, see idem, Vol. V, No. 1; for the report on 1953, see idem, Vol. VI, No. 1; for the report on 1954, see idem, Vol. VII, No. 1.

In 1954, in contrast to 1952 and 1953, licit requirements increased and exceeded production. The increase is due to higher demand by morphine-manufacturing countries." Quasi-medical" requirements are falling steadily, as a result particularly of the measures taken by the Government of India to abolish this use entirely by 1959. Licit non-medical requirements are now very small compared with medical requirements, whereas before the 1939-45 war they were substantially larger. In 1954, two countries supplied the Board with figures of their licit non-medical consumption. They were Cambodia and Thailand, where consumption amounted, respectively, to 78 kg. and 16,448 kg; in the latter country the opium used for this purpose seems to have come entirely from confiscations in the illicit traffic. India supplies only aggregate figures for opium smoked and opium used for quasi-medical purposes. In 1954, the total figure was 83,505 kg.; by far the greatest part was used for quasi-medical purposes.

(b) Poppy Straw

Poppy straw has assumed great importance as a raw material for the manufacture of morphine: it supplied 26 per cent of world morphine production in 1953, and 22 per cent in 1954.

(c) Coca Leaves

Total world production of coca leaves in 1954 amounted approximately to 13,113 tons. This total is shared very unequally among the four producing countries. Peru heads the list with 9,907 tons, followed by Bolivia with 3,000 tons, Colombia with 180 tons and Indonesia with 26 tons. Cultivation of the coca shrub, which had been started again in the Chinese province of Taiwan (Formosa), yielded an initial crop of 200 kg. in 1953, but no harvest took place in 1954. In Peru the amount harvested rose from 9,502 tons in 1953 to 9,907 tons in 1954.

The use of coca leaves for medical purposes - namely, for the licit manufacture of cocaine - absorbed only a fraction of the output (less than 700 tons out of the world total of 13,113 tons in 1954). The balance, over 12,000 tons, was consumed for non-medical purposes-that is to say, was chewed by certain indigenous peoples of South America. In Colombia the entire production is used in this way; in Bolivia and Peru 90 per cent is so used. The balance of Bolivia's production is nearly all exported to Argentina, a non-producing country where the leaf-chewing habit exists. Peru, on the other hand, exports the rest of its crop to the cocaine-manufacturing countries. In Indonesia, where the chewing habit is non-existent, the whole crop is exported for the purposes of cocaine extraction.

(d) Cannabis (Indian hemp) Preparations for Medical and Quasi-medical Use

In 1953, according to the latest statistics reaching the Board, 1,300 kg. of these preparations were used in the world - more than half in India and Pakistan, and the rest in some twenty other countries. The information which the Board possesses for 1954 indicates that the use of cannabis preparations has fallen to 900 kg. It ceased altogether in France and Chile, and apparently also in Pakistan, and fell by half or even more in the United Kingdom, the Union of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.

Manufactured Drugs

(a) Morphine

After declining in 1953, world manufacture resumed its upward movement in 1954, rising from 74 to 84 tons. Both the rate of increase and the figure of 84 tons are the highest on record.

The rise in world manufacture is due to the continually increasing requirements for codeine, the production of which accounts every year for 80-90 per cent of the morphine manufactured. In 1954, the quantity of morphine converted into ethylmorphine, pholcodine and hydromorphone also increased, and it now represents 8 per cent of total morphine production. It follows that the amount of morphine not converted into other drugs now represents only a small fraction of total production, being less than 5 per cent during the last two years, or an absolute figure of 3 tons. World consumption of morphine, on the other hand, during the year was 5 tons, and the deficit had to be made good by drawing upon stocks.

Morphine is now much less widely used in medical practice than before the war and is presumably being replaced by other drugs, either opiates or synthetics with comparable effects.

(b) Diacetylmorphine

Three countries continued to manufacture diacetylmorphine in 1954: the United Kingdom (120 kg.), Belgium (8 kg.) and Portugal (4 kg.), making a total of 132 kg., or 26 kg. less than in 1953.

World consumption fell from 206 kg. in 1953 to 158 kg. in 1954. Since 1951, production has been even lower, and this has led to a gradual reduction of stocks.

(c) Codeine

Consumption of no other drug has increased in such proportions as that of codeine. During the twenty years for which the Board possesses statistics, consumption of codeine has increased fourfold, showing a steady rise from 18 tons in 1935 to 68 tons in 1954, the maximum so far recorded. This trend may be explained by the growth of population, the expansion of medical services and the more varied use which medical practice has found for this drug.

(d) Cocaine

World production rose from 1,995 kg. in 1953 to 2,428 kg. in 1954. This increase of over 20 per cent is due to growing demand in the following countries : USSR, China (Mainland), Romania, Indonesia and Poland. Exports to these countries, which were 216 kg. in 1953, rose to 670 kg. in 1954. The biggest rise is in the figures for the USSR (from 90 kg. to 450 kg.). So far as can be seen from the statistics, the imports were intended partly for current consumption and partly for the replenishment of stocks. The supplying countries (Federal Republic of Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands and France) accordingly raised their production from 1,021 kg. to 1,429 kg.

(c) Synthetic Narcotic Drugs
  1. Pethidine

    World consumption has increased as follows, since 1951, the first year for which the Board has more or less full information:

    1951 1952 1953 1954
    8.9 10.3 10.7 11.4

    The Board is engaged in a study of the pattern of consumption of pethidine and its relationship to that of morphine.

  2. Methadone

    World consumption of methadone, which was 489 kg. in 1953, rose to 553 kg. in 1954. During the same period, production increased from 395 to 609 kg. The production deficit observed in 1953 was thus partially offset in 1954.

  3. Ketobemidone

    Up to 1953 this drug was manufactured in Switzerland and Denmark. In 1954, Switzerland suspended its manufacture, and as a result world production fell from 110 kg. in 1953 to 24 kg. in 1954.

    World consumption of ketobemidone totalled 64 kg. in 1954, and only in ten countries-Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland-did it amount to 1 kg. or more.

New Narcotic Drugs

The Board states that since the publication of its last report 3 the following narcotic drugs, together with their salts, have been placed under international control:

  1. Under article 11 of the 1931 Convention:



    Myristyl ester of benzylmorphine;

  2. Under the 1948 Protocol:


    β-6-dimethylamino-4,4-diphenyl-3-heptanol (beta methadol),


    Isopropyl and other esters of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-piperidine-4-carboxylic acid.

These were subjected to the regime applying to the drugs specified in article 1, paragraph 2, Group I, of the 1931 Convention, except for the myristyl ester of benzylmorphine; this drug is only provisionally subjected to that regime, and its definitive regime will be determined later.4


In 1954, production of raw opium was reduced and demand increased slightly, thereby bringing the stocks down to about two years' requirements.

Consumption for medical and scientific purposes of most of the "manufactured" drugs continued to rise in 1954 as in previous years, the rise being probably attributable to the growth of population and improvement in standards of living. In itself, therefore, the fact affords no reason for disquiet, and indeed consumption may be expected to rise further as health services continue to expand. At the same time a responsibility rests on governments to ensure that proper care is exercised in prescribing these substances.


See Bulletin on Narcotics, Vol. VII, No. 1


See infra, page 37.

It is essential also that as soon as any new drug, synthetic or other, is authoritatively stated to possess addiction-producing properties the medical profession should be fully alerted to the dangers attaching to its use, and this need is engaging the attention of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and of the World Health Organization.5

The quantities of opium consumed both forlicit and illicit non-medical purposes and for quasi-medical purposes, and the quantities of coca leaves for chewing, are overwhelmingly greater than the quantities required for strictly medical and scientific ends.

Opium is clearly still the main element in the illicit consumption of narcotics: there are millions of opium addicts, particularly in Asia, and the illicit traffic in opium also supplies the clandestine laboratories which manufacture almost all the morphine and diacetylmorphine used by drug addicts.

Second only to opium in this respect are cannabis resin (hashish, charas, chira) and cannabis leaves and tops (ganja, bhang, dagga, kif, takrouri, marihuana, maconha), the abuse of which is practised by millions of addicts all over the world.

The chewing of coca leaves, a habit which again is shared by millions of people, is confined to certain countries of South America. The amounts thus consumed are nearly twenty times as great as those used for the licit manufacture of cocaine. In 1954, a long-standing controversy was brought to an end when it was agreed between the governments concerned, the World Health Organization and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that this habit constitutes a form of drug addiction, even though it does not possess all the characteristics of addiction, and that it should be suppressed.

While the gravity of the problem of addiction to morphine and its derivatives, particularly diacetylmorphine, and to cocaine is not in any degree minimized by the comparison, it is nevertheless true that the addicts to these drugs, who are to be found in nearly all parts of the world, are infinitely fewer than the habitual consumers of either opium, cannabis or coca leaves; and, to judge by the reports on illicit traffic, persons addicted to "synthetic" narcotics must be fewer still.

In all countries, whether they be producers of raw materials, manufacturers, or merely consumers of narcotic drugs, effective national control is the primary pre-requisite for satisfactory fulfilment of the International Conventions. But each country has its own special problems, and these can be solved only with the continuing support of public opinion, on which the success of all efforts against the various forms of drug addiction ultimately depends.


See infra, page 37.

Estimated World Requirements of Narcotic Drugs in 1956

The International Convention of 1931 for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs introduced the obligatory estimate system to carry out the principle of limiting the manufacture and trade of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes. Each country and territory is to furnish, annually, advance estimates of the narcotic drugs needed for these purposes. These estimates are binding and determine the maximum amounts to be manufactured or imported in any given year. The estimates are examined by the Drug Supervisory Body, an organ composed of four experts sitting in their personal capacity - i.e., they are not governement representatives. The Supervisory Body may require further information from governments on their estimates and may, with their consent, change the estimates. It publishes an annual statement of estimates for each country or territory and, if considered necessary, an account of the explanations given by governments or required from them.

It was felt that it would be of interest to the readers of the Bulletin to know, for the most important narcotic drugs, what the world total estimates had been from 1950 to 1956, together with the actual figures of production for these drugs from 1950 to 1954 (the last year for which statistics have been published by the Board). The figures on estimates have been taken from the documents Estimated World Requirements of Narcotic Drugs in 1956 (E/DSB/13) and the fourth supplement to the corresponding document for 1955 (E/DSB/12/Add.4), published by the Supervisory Body.

It will be noticed that the estimates exceed the actual production by amounts ranging from 20 per cent up to more than 70 per cent: the Supervisory Body states in that connexion that several countries submit estimates which can be up to four times greater than their annual requirements, because they fear to get insufficient supply otherwise (although the Convention allows governments to submit supplementary estimates or to amend any inadequate estimates). From 1953 onward, the Supervisory Body has been trying to correct this state of affairs, with some success, by drawing the attention of governments to the uselessness of unduly large estimates.

Among the interesting facts shown by these estimates, two can be emphasized: first, the estimated requirements of diacetylmorphine have fallen steadily since 1948, as a result of the efforts made by international bodies to persuade governments to prohibit the use of this drug. Indeed, the actual production has fallen even more markedly, owing to the fact that certain governments (Canada, Argentina, Finland, for example) which have decided to abandon the use of diacetylmorphine are using up their stocks. Thus, the estimated requirements and the production of this drug fell respectively from 972 kg. and 839 kg. in 1948 to 338 kg. and 132 kg. in 1954. The world total of the estimates further decreased to 259 kg. for 1955 and 151 kg. for 1956; the latter figure may of course be modified during the year by revised or supplementary estimates.

Secondly, the number of synthetic narcotic drugs is increasing from year to year, and an increasing number of countries and territories are using them. The apparent increase in the total estimated requirements of synthetic narcotic drugs other than pethidine does not mean that consumption of these drugs is rising at a uniform rate in the countries which used them first. It must also be noted that many of these drugs are still the subject of clinical experiment. In short, it does not seem always to be easy for national authorities to estimate precisely their country's requirements of newly discovered drugs.

The Supervisory Body also notes that total estimated requirements of ketobemidone have diminished considerably between 1953 and 1955. This is no doubt a sign that governments have taken heed of the resolution adopted on 12 July 1954 by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.6From 278 kg., the record figure of 1953, the total estimates fell to 175 kg. for 1955 and 72 kg. for 1956; this total will be modified during the year 1956 by supplementary estimates. Twenty-nine countries supplied estimates of ketobemidone for 1953; this number has fallen to twenty-four for 1956.


Resolution 548 H II (XVII).

World Total Estimates from 1950 to 1956 and Production from 1950 to 1954

(In kilogrammes)

  1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956a
Drug Estimate Production Estimate Production Estimate Production Estimate Production Estimate Production Estimate Estimate
105,589 93,452
464 120 295 158 338 132 259 151
3,281 1,729 2,859 2,315 3,219 2,040 3,228 2,127
99,065 80,172
9,667 6,800
6,174 1,522 4,621 2,171 4,390 1,995 4,822 2,428 3,797 2,889
20,184 10,320 19,947 12,555 17,927 13,965
792 609 900 751

a The 1956 estimates will be modified during the year by revised or supplementary estimates.

b It should be pointed out that from 80 to 90 per cent of the morphine is to be converted into codeine (a small percentage into other drugs).

* Figures marked with an asterisk are incomplete: most but not all the countries have furnished statistics.