BEIJING, 25 May 2007 (UNODC) - Reducing the supply of synthetic drugs is crucial if Asia is to safeguard decades of hard-won progress in drug control, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said on Friday.
Speaking in Beijing, he called for the creation of a regional drug control mechanism modelled on counter-narcotics intelligence networks which UNODC is helping to set up in Central Asia and the Gulf. This could enable better exchange of intelligence on trafficking, production and money-laundering and improve regional cooperation in criminal justice.
Mr Costa said some of the most dramatic examples of successful drug control could be found in Asia, but synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines and the spread of precursor chemicals used to manufacture drugs were a cause for concern.
"Asia has a problem with the illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants, particularly methamphetamine," he told a Ministerial Meeting in Beijing of signatory countries to a 1993 Memorandum of Understanding on Drug Control. "In addition, relatively few of these substances are being seized."
Ministers from China, Myanmar, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia are attending the event.
Opium production in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand - long known as the Golden Triangle - has fallen dramatically, but the situation is fragile, the UNODC chief warned.
"Progress could be undone by market-induced reversal, production of new drugs, or the opening of new trafficking routes, and new markets. We therefore have to consolidate the progress that has been made, and take further action to prevent a spread of drug abuse."
Intelligence-sharing networks being established in Central Asia and the Gulf could provide a model for improved cooperation in Asia. "Perhaps the time is ripe for something similar in Asia, paying special attention to synthetic drugs and chemical precursors," Mr Costa said.
Countries could not afford to ignore the rise in precursor chemicals, which could imperil the positive trends in opium reduction. Recent information suggests a marked increase in the trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan via Pakistan to east Asia.
Chemicals diverted from China were being used to turn Afghanistan's opium into heroin, which was increasingly finding its way to the East. "This is a sinister example of 'what goes around comes around,'" Mr Costa said.
"Since the problem is largely originating in Asia, it needs to be solved in Asia too - for example by finding and destroying the superlabs and tracking the shipment of precursors."
Mr Costa praised the Cambodian authorities for a recent major seizure of precursor chemicals. But he noted that, globally, less than 10 per cent of all synthetic drugs were being seized, whereas 40 per cent of all cocaine and a quarter of all heroin were confiscated.
Turning to drug demand, Mr Costa noted that the global market for amphetamine-type stimulants was driven by Asia and 55 per cent of users - some 14 million people - lived in Asia. Most of them use methamphetamine, commonly known as "crystal meth" or "ice."
"This is largely a homemade problem that requires your highest attention," he told ministers.
He urged governments to build upon TREATNET, an international network of drug treatment and rehabilitation resource centres developed by UNODC, only one of which is in Asia.
"I want to see 100 times more centres in this network, including one in every major city in Asia," Mr Costa said.
"Think of the cost of drug addiction - human and financial. Treatment is actually cost effective, it is an investment both in terms of enriching society and improving productivity. It is also less expensive and more durable than law enforcement and repression."
Full text of speech here