Press Release

11 July 2000
UNDCP Opium Elimination Programme Launched in Laos

A new six-year strategy to eradicate opium poppy and reduce its production in the northern regions of the Lao PDR was announced today in Vientiane by the government of Laos and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).

The new programme (A Balanced Approach to Opium Elimination in Lao P.D.R) addresses the growing problem of opium poppy production and abuse in the northern part of the country. The Chairman of the Lao National Commission of Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC), H.E. Minister Soubhan Srithirath, announced the new programme at a signing ceremony in the President's Office in the Laotian capital.

"The northern target area is physically and economically isolated." said Dr. Halvor J. Kolshus, the UNDCP Representative in Laos. "Measures to address food security, provide alternative income sources, better health facilities and reduce poverty are essential components of the drug control programme."

The Lao PDR is the world's third largest producer of illicit opium after Afghanistan and Myanmar. According to the most recent UNDCP estimates, 123.5 metric tons of opium were produced from the 26,800 ha under cultivation in Laos, a 40 per cent increase in area since 1992. About 80 per cent of the opium produced in the country comes from eight provinces in the northern region. The majority of the Lao PDR's estimated 63,000 opium addicts live in the northern region.

Opium has traditionally been used as a cash crop to trade for rice and also has medicinal purposes in the northern regions. In 1998, 57 per cent of the annual opium production in the Lao PDR was consumed locally. The national opium addiction rate for people aged 15 and above was 2.1 per cent, the second highest opiate addiction rate in the world after Iran. The addiction rate for the northern provinces is nearly twice this figure.

"The rural poverty in the target area needs to be addressed if opium growers are going to be able to break the cycle of production and addiction," said Kolshus. "The programme gets to the root of the problems. The improvement of health services, the development of community-based prevention and rehabilitation services, alternative development and law enforcement are all essential components. UNDCP needs the support of the international community to make sure this programme is fully funded."

The Government of the Lao PDR has been receiving assistance from the international community for drug control activities since 1989. Total requirements for the new programme in the north is US$ 80 million. For the first component of the new programme, UNDCP will contribute approximately US$ 4.7 million and the Lao government will contribute about US$ 500,000.