U.N. Economic and Social Council discusses the drug problem


In deciding that a treaty conference be called early in 1971 to adopt the Protocol on Psychotropic Substances, the Economic and Social Council entered into a far-ranging discussion on the drug problems in the world, on the basis of documents prepared by the International Narcotics Control Board and the Secretary General. The following are some of the important points made by speakers in this discussion:


Pages: 49 to 52
Creation Date: 1970/01/01

U.N. Economic and Social Council discusses the drug problem

In deciding that a treaty conference be called early in 1971 to adopt the Protocol on Psychotropic Substances, the Economic and Social Council entered into a far-ranging discussion on the drug problems in the world, on the basis of documents prepared by the International Narcotics Control Board and the Secretary General. The following are some of the important points made by speakers in this discussion:

Dr. KUSEVIC (Director of the U.N. Division of Narcotic Drugs) said that the increasing abuse of psychotropic substances created an obvious social problem which particularly affected the young.

The draft Protocol on Psychotropic Substances was designed to restrict as far as possible the use of hallucinogens to scientific research and to bring under control, with some flexibility, other psychotropic substances which were of value in medicine.

There were grounds for optimism that the international community would adopt the draft Protocol on Psychotropic Substances, but the adoption of the instrument would not mean that the problem had been solved. The epidemic increase in the abuse of traditional narcotics, in particular the deadly heroin, was most alarming. Many countries could be said to be suffering from mass drug addiction so great as to constitute a veritable national disaster; but no region and no State could claim to be immune from that evil. The international community must act and act quickly; it must, moreover, put adequate financial resources into this work. If it delayed, the problem would become infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, to solve and the cost of a solution would be incomparably higher.

Sir Harry GREENFIELD (President, International Narcotics Control Board) said that year by year the Board's information network became more efficient, but there were still large areas of the world, notably Central Asia, of which the Board knew little or nothing. It hoped that that serious lacuna in the international system could eventually be remedied.

Much the same could be said of the application of the controls prescribed by the treaties. More than half the Members of the United Nations had ratified the 1961 Convention, and a far greater number applied its provisions with a satisfactory degree of fidelity.

Thus, subject to the reservations which he had mentioned, the international control over licit manufacture and licit distribution of the drugs listed in the 1961 Convention was reasonably secure.

A similar assurance could not, unfortunately, be given with regard to the licit production of narcotic raw materials. Monopoly controls over opium production in India and the Soviet Union, the main areas of production for licit manufacture, were highly effective but the same could not yet be said for controls in Turkey. However, useful modifications had been made in recent years, and if the Turkish Government carried through its programme for reducing the cultivated area to 12,000 hectares in the current year and concentrating production in districts remote from the frontiers, the situation should be substantially improved.

Following the Iranian Government's decision to rescind its ban on poppy cultivation, Iran was once again among the licit producers of opium, although it firmly disclaimed any intention of permitting production on the scale existing prior to 1955. Indeed, it appeared to be the Government's intention to confine production strictly to domestic requirements and traffickers were being dealt with severely. If the situation in Iran was to be contained, the Government's policy must be comprehensive; it must include not only strict control over production and distribution, together with harsh penalties for offenders, but also widespread publicity on the dangers of drug abuse, and medical or paramedical treatment and social rehabilitation of addicts. The last need had been rendered more urgent by the fact that opium addiction was being replaced by heroin addiction, particularly among young people. Such a programme would be an onerous one for a country with Iran's limited resources and the Board hoped that international assistance would he forthcoming if the Iranian Government felt the need for it.

Of much greater concern to the Board was the illicit or uncontrolled production of narcotic raw materials. The primary raw materials, whether opium or coca leaf, were now often partly processed in the production areas, with the result that they were more easily and economically portable and less readily identifiable as contraband. Those and other factors had greatly extended the sources of supply available to traffickers. Thus mankind could not hope to be free from the evil of narcotic drug abuse - quite apart from the menace of other dangerous drugs - until all production of narcotic raw materials, which was now illicit or uncontrolled, was eliminated and all licit production was placed under control systems of maximum efficiency.

With that aim in mind, the Board had for several years pressed for the adoption of a comprehensive programme of economic and social advancement in areas whose inhabitants depended for their livelihood on the production of opium or coca leaves which supplied the international contraband channels. There now seemed to be some prospect that a plan devised along those lines might be put into effect. The meeting of the international organs and specialized agencies concerned, which had been convened in June 1969 to consider how to implement General Assembly resolution 2434(XXIII), had been a useful first step. The decision to deal consecutively with the regions affected was perhaps inevitable, although it carried the obvious risk, as the Board had indicated earlier, that success in a given region might simply lead to increased production in another. However, the agreement that the measures to be taken should simultaneously embrace all the main constituent elements - supply, demand and traffic - and should include integrated rural development, as well as educational and enforcement measures, had been welcomed by the Board, for it saw in that agreement some hope that a fundamental approach to the problem might now be possible. The international community must somehow find means of financing and implementing those measures before the situation became unmanageable. The Board supported the suggestion that a special fund might be created for that purpose. There was a desperate need for realistic and effective measures. The greater the delay in taking action, the higher would be the cost, not only of the financing of remedial measures, but also in terms of human misery and economic loss. The urgency was heightened by the fact that opium addicts were increasingly turning to heroin, the most dangerous form of addiction. That tendency was manifesting itself not only in Iran but also in Thailand. The Thai Government had recently appealed for technical assistance under General Assembly resolution 2434(XXIII) and the Board hoped that the appeal would be heeded.

The main areas of large-scale illicit or uncontrolled production were known: for opium they were the Middle East and South-East Asia; for coca leaf they were the Andean regions of South America; cannabis was freely available in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and an additional source of supply seemed to have opened up in Nepal.

The Board had long taken a serious view of the cannabis problem and it shared the opinion of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence that the growing misuse of cannabis constituted a menace to society and the individual. The physiological effects of long-term misuse were known and, while research into the psychiatric effects was needed, it could hardly be doubted that prolonged misuse undermined man's inborn urge to improve the lot of himself and his family. There seemed also to be general agreement that even mild doses disturbed the individual's sense of time and space - a fact which, especially in the age of the automobile, was of relevance to the current debate on whether cannabis consumption should be legalized. The debate seemed to be clouded by lack of understanding arising from the fact that much of the cannabis consumed by new adherents to the cult was of inferior quality so that its effects were relatively mild. The potency of cannabis varied depending on several factors, including the part of the plant from which it was taken, the degree of care given to its cultivation, and its treatment and storage. Actually, it was in the resin that the active principle of cannabis was chiefly concentrated. The dangers involved in cannabis consumption would doubtless continue to be explored in the countries chiefly affected.

The Board had for several years been concerned over the growing recourse to stimulants, depresssants and hallucinogens, which had now reached almost epidemic proportions. Taken as a whole, the continually expanding family of psychotropic substances represented a potential danger transcending even that of the principal opiates.

The Board hoped that the draft Protocol on Psychotropic Substances would now be adopted and would be implemented with all possible speed, and that control over the licit manufacture of psychotropic substances could be made as efficacious as that which had been established over the licit manufacture of narcotic substances.

The world was faced with a grave and growing problem which could be solved only by collective effort. The public throughout the world was entitled to look to the relevant international organs for assurance that the challenge was being met. One way in which the Council could help to allay public anxiety would be to enable representatives of Governments to come together not less than once a year - whether in the Commission on Narcotic Drugs or in some other forum - to study the situation continuously and to formulate remedial measures with the minimum of delay.

Dr. CAMERON (World Health Organization) said that since 1957 WHO had been striving to make the national and international organs concerned with the control of dependence-producing drugs aware of the need for national and international measures of control in respect of certain categories of drugs that were not covered by the existing international narcotics control conventions. The World Health Assembly had expressed its deep concern at the continuing and spreading problem posed by the abuse of psychotropic substances not under international control and had expressed the view that agreement should be reached as quickly as possible on effective international control provisions.

The Director-General of WHO had informed the Secretary-General that the agency was prepared to evaluate, for the purpose of international control measures, the risk to public health presented by the abuse of psychotropic substances and that it was understood that the administrative and legal provisions by which the results of such evaluation would be given effect would still have to be worked out in consultation with WHO.

The agency had been consulted throughout the preparation of the draft Protocol on Psychotropic Substances.

By virtue of its Constitution, a function of WHO was " to act as the directing and co-ordinating authority on international health work ". It was evident from the provisions of the revised draft Protocol that the decision on the control status of a drug was first and foremost a matter of medical assessment. If the Commission on Narcotic Drugs wished to act on a specific recommendation by WHO, it should not deviate from the control provisions specified in that recommendation.

Mr. CALOVSKI (Yougoslavia) said that the problem of drug addiction was increasing daily in scope and complexity as younger and younger people became addicted, and it could be solved only gradually through the close co-operation of all countries. Yougoslavia, for its part, intended to follow its traditional policy of rigorously combating the dangers of narcotic drugs.

Mr. NAITO (Japan) noted that although the social problem represented by the abuse of amphetamines and other psychotropic substances was not so serious in Japan as in some other countries, the Japanese government kept a careful watch over the development of the situation because of its great epidemic potential, which was to a certain extent due to the irresponsible sensationalism of certain publications with regard to some substances, such as LSD.

Because of the alarming increase in the number of drug addicts in the world, and especially in view of the extreme youth of some of them, his delegation recognized the need for education in the widest sense and the importance of an exchange between countries of the results of their experiences.

Mr. KOTSCHNIG (United States of America), referring to the epidemic of drug addiction which plagued the United States and which extended to all social levels and even to children between the ages of twelve and fourteen, said that if that evil threatened to assume the proportions of a national disaster in his country, it respected no boundaries and was also spreading in other countries. The interim report of the Secretary-General on technical assistance in the narcotics field, indicated that the number of countries affected by drug addiction was constantly growing and that it existed not only in the developed countries but also in some of the less developed countries. He agreed that to ask the countries producing narcotic raw materials to give up that source of revenue without recompense would be to expose them to certain difficulties.

He held that after study and close consultation among the international bodies concerned, it could be possible to elaborate within two years a world plan of action, a sine qua non for the success of addiction control.

Mr. LOBANOV (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) held that more specific measures should be taken to check the progress of drug abuse, which originated in countries having a certain social system and which had subsequently spread throughout the world. In point of fact, it was not the producers who were primarily to blame, but rather the social system itself.

The narcotics problem did not exist in all countries; in the socialist countries, for instance, while there were isolated cases of drug addiction, it was not really a social problem.

Mr. HJELDE (Norway) observed that the most alarming aspect of the growing problem of drug addiction was the increase among the young. Even young teenagers were among the steadily increasing number of victims of an evil which they themselves were unable to combat. Not only did the increase involve an enormous number of personal tragedies; it also created immeasurable problems for society.

Norway, like the other Nordic countries, attached the greatest importance to the search for a solution to the problem of drug addiction. He had listened with keen interest to the suggestion made by the United States representative for a world plan of action. In seeking a solution it was important to bear in mind that drug addiction was closely linked with the widespread feeling of frustration, particularly among young people, the increasing impairment of the human environment and persisting international unrest.

Mrs. GAVRILOVA (Bulgaria) suggested that the immediate causes of drug addiction varied from country to country, ranging from poverty, hunger and illiteracy to the absence of sound ideals, which was now a characteristic feature of life in certain developed countries. It was true that some young people were impelled by a feeling of curiosity and a desire to do what was fashionable. However, drug addiction was principally an expression of revulsion against the prevailing social system with its inequalities, oppression and class antagonisms. When young people's ideals were frustrated they developed a nihilistic attitude towards life, particularly in countries waging odious, aggressive and hopeless wars. She therefore felt that administrative measures alone would not cure the evil of drug addiction. The underlying causes, rather than the symptoms, needed to be treated.

Mr. PAOLINI (France) considered that whatever might be the sociological causes of drug addiction, it would not have become such a serious world problem had the production, sale and export of such substances been brought under international regulation.

He recognized the great importance of the psychosocial origins of drug abuse, particularly among the young, and hoped that the current studies would result in more effective preventive action.

Mr. DRISS (Tunisia) observed that at the present time Tunisia did not have a serious narcotics problem, but during the 1930s, cocaine and heroine had wrought terrible havoc among intellectuals and young people, while bringing handsome profits to those who trafficked in them. Strict control measures and appropriate legislation had put an end to the situation, but it could not be said that there was no longer any danger.

His delegation was prepared to associate itself with a world-wide campaign against the production, sale and use of narcotic drugs and also in devising psychological and educational means of saving young people from drug addiction. Technical measures alone were not enough. An awareness of the problem on the part of Governments, teachers and the general public was essential to the success of a struggle which would be long and difficult, and it would be helpful if those countries in a position to do so assisted, through better publicity measures, in informing people of the many great dangers of drug use.

Miss MUTER (Indonesia) said that no country could by itself effectively or completely solve a problem of that nature. The complex character of the illegal production of narcotics, the widespread illegal traffic in cannabis and psychotropic substances, and drug consumption called for international co-operation on a worldwide scale. Her delegation therefore supported the proposal that there should be collective international action and that representatives of Governments should meet to integrate their anti-narcotics measures.

Mr. OUEDRAOGO (Upper Volta) believed that young people had a leading role to play in the fight against narcotics, which threatened them more than any other group. The convening of the World Youth Assembly would provide a unique opportunity for a debate on drug addiction by young people from all over the world and might yield useful information on how they viewed the problem.

Mr. FRANZI (Italy) also suggested that the World Youth Assembly frankly discuss the problem, since no solution could be found unless serious efforts were made to persuade young people of the evils of drug abuse. In addition, young people should be invited to associate themselves with the action which Governments were expected to take.

Mr. KARIM (Pakistan) said that this country was willing to enter into any co-operative effort for the effective control of the abuse and illicit production of narcotic drugs. The entire blame must not be shifted to the countries which produced narcotic raw materials. The Governments of those countries were faced with several problems - geographical, economic and social--in the control of production. The geographical problems could be overcome by recourse to more modern means of communications. However, it was very difficult for a country at a relatively low stage of development to radically change the economic and social patterns of an entire area or community.

Mr. SAM (Ghana) thought the spread of drug addiction, a problem that also affected the developing countries, was due to the frustrations and hardships of existence. To prevent the evil from spreading, or from breaking out in new quarters, an effort should be made to publicize the dangers of narcotics, to strengthen moral standards in educational institutions and to improve living standards.