Estimated world requirements of narcotic drugs in 1959


In pursuance of the International Convention of 13 July 1931, the Drug Supervisory Body publishes an annual statement of estimated world requirements of narcotic drugs. This statement also includes estimates for the narcotic drugs brought under international control by virtue of the Protocol of 19 November 1948.


Pages: 52 to 53
Creation Date: 1959/01/01

Estimated world requirements of narcotic drugs in 1959

In pursuance of the International Convention of 13 July 1931, the Drug Supervisory Body publishes an annual statement of estimated world requirements of narcotic drugs. This statement also includes estimates for the narcotic drugs brought under international control by virtue of the Protocol of 19 November 1948.

The following table shows the world estimates for the most important narcotics in 1959 together with the actual figures of production for them in 1957, the last year for which statistics have been published by the Permanent Central Opium Board. The figures on production have been taken from the Report to the Economic and Social Council on the work of the Board in 1958,1 and the figures on estimates as well as the comments have been taken from the document Estimated World Requirements of Narcotic Drugs in 1959 published by the Supervisory Body (document E/DSB/16, 15 December 1958).


Production 1957 (kg)

Estimated world requirements in 1959 (kg)

108,955 111,392
75 91
2,124 2,991
97,005 101,649
7,439 8,615
1,039 2,106
14,846 16,036
573 718

In its introduction to its statement, the Supervisory Body studies the impact of new drugs on its work.

"Every year new narcotic drugs, mostly synthetics, are being brought under international control and therefore fall within the sphere of the Supervisory Body's activities. The first few years following their appearance are those during which the Supervisory Body is called upon to exercise the greatest vigilance, the main reason for this being the dilatoriness of some governments in subjecting the substances in question to national control.

"Again, difficulty is often experienced during these periods of uncertainty in determining with sufficient accuracy the actual requirements of new narcotic drugs, the therapeutic uses of which are not yet fully known. Few governments, it seems, then attempt to ascertain to what extent such narcotic drugs, for which they furnish estimates, are intended to replace other ones, with similar properties, the estimates for which could be reduced accordingly. It follows that their estimates for these various narcotic drugs - old and new - lead to what is very often an unwarranted increase in the over-all figure. It also happens that, on the strength of the misleading claims appearing in the press, a new and potent narcotic drug is administered in cases where milder sedatives or harmless cough mixtures might have sufficed."


See above, "Legal Trade in Narcotics in 1957".

The Supervisory Body held its first session twenty-five years ago and it has reviewed the development of its work during this quarter of a century in the following words:

The first Statement of Estimates drawn up by the Supervisory Body, in 1933, contained estimates for 182 political entities, namely 68 countries and 114 non-metropolitan territories. For 128 of them (45 countries and 83 non-metropolitan territories) the estimates had been supplied by the national authorities, while the Supervisory Body had established those for the other 54 (23 countries and 31 non-metropolitan territories) which had not furnished any themselves. The present statement, for 1959, contains estimates for 167 political entities (94 countries and 73 non-metropolitan territories); 160 of these (for 87 countries and 73 non-metropolitan territories) were furnished by the national authorities, so that the Supervisory Body had to draw up estimates itself for only 7 countries. In this respect, the progress achieved has been considerable, and almost all countries and territories throughout the world now provide estimates.

The Statement of Estimates for 1934, published in November 1933, referred to 15 narcotic drugs, all of them" natural ", whereas that for 1959 covers 43 drugs - 20 "natural" and 23 "synthetic ". This afflux of new narcotic drugs has naturally increased the volume of the Supervisory Body's work and has also made it more complex, because the scientific names of the new drugs, particularly the synthetics, are long and open to different interpretations. The work would indeed have become almost impossible had not the World Health Organization some years ago perfected a procedure for rapidly giving international non-proprietary names to narcotic drugs with specially complex scientific names.

The evolution of the estimates themselves in these twenty-five years has been most revealing. To mention but a few examples, the world total of the consumption estimates of morphine has steadily declined, falling from 9,370 kg for 1934 to 5,006 kg for 1959. The corresponding figure for cocaine has fallen from 5,760 kg for 1934 to 2,103 kg for 1959. The decrease is even more striking for diacetylmorphine: from 1,558 kg for 1934 to 74 kg for 1959. For 1934, 48 countries and 79 non-metropolitan territories supplied estimates in respect of that drug, whereas at the time of the present report only 10 countries and 15 non-metropolitan territories have done so for 1959.

On the other hand, the estimates concerning the conversion of morphine have become steadily higher, rising from 32,979 kg for 1934 to 106,320 kg for 1959. This increase does not reflect an alarming state of affairs, since the use of morphine as such has continuously declined over the past twenty-five years, and its consumption has been mainly in the form of group II products, in particular codeine and ethylmorphine, the estimated consumption of which has risen from 26,477 kg to 97,278 kg and from 2,832 kg to 8,615 kg respectively, during the period under review. The increasing consumption of the last-named drugs, to which pholcodine has recently been added, reflects the increase in the world population, the rising standards of living, the development of the practice of medicine, and the extension of medico-social services in a large number of countries and territories which almost entirely lacked them in 1934.

The marked decline which, despite those factors, has occurred in the estimated consumption of morphine as such during the period under review, is no doubt due partly to the appearance of numerous new narcotic drugs, mostly synthetics, pride of place among which must be given to pethidine. In fact, the total estimated world consumption of the various synthetic drugs covered by the Convention amounted to 27,314 kg for 1959, pethidine alone accounting for 16,003 kg.

According to the third study in the series published by the World Health Organization under the title "Synthetic substances with morphine-like effect ",2 the analgesic potencies of pethidine and morphine are in the approximate ratio of 1 : 5. Thus, to take these two narcotic drugs alone, the appearance of pethidine and its growing consumption have not even compensated for the decline in morphine consumption over the last twenty-five years.

Furthermore, governments tend less and less to overestimate their requirements. This improvement reflects their growing concern to guard against the risk of illicit traffic and drug addiction, both of them inherent in the procurement of excessive quantities.

These various findings warrant the conclusion that the 1931 Convention has shown its usefulness, and the attitude of most governments is a sign of the importance which they attach to the system of estimates as a means of controlling the trade in narcotic drugs.


WHO Bulletin 1956, 14, 353-402.