23 February 1999
(International Narcotics Control Board 1998 report released) (1300) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent UNITED NATIONS -- Efforts to combat drug abuse are being undermined by the increasing availability of drugs prescribed by doctors to relieve stress or enhance performance, and by drug traffickers' use of advanced computer technology to circumvent the law, a new international drug study reported. The 1998 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released February 23 looks back at the century's challenges in international drug control and at the latest problems and successes in ending drug abuse. INCB President Hamid Ghodse described international drug control as "a fairly successful endeavor" during the 20th century. The unrestricted availability of opium and other drugs in the early 1900s which led to unprecedented levels of drug use has evolved into a situation where licit narcotic drugs are effectively controlled almost everywhere in the world, he said. "The world community has come a long way during this century and, in recent years, there has been consensus for a balanced approach towards all aspects of drug abuse and related problems," Ghodse said in the report. "Now we need to move towards the next millennium with resolute determination to reinforce the international consensus." But many challenges remain, Ghodse said, including ensuring that drugs for medical purposes are available when needed, and curtailing over-prescription and/or the reliance on drugs for all social and behavioral problems. "If young people are told to take prescription drugs to respond to emotional stress, to improve their school performance and to achieve conformity with the generally desired body image, how can they be expected to refrain from abusing drugs?" the INCB president said. Europeans are the world's top users of stress-reducing drugs, often referred to as "downers," while Americans are top users of performance-enhancing substances or "uppers," according to the INCB. The use of amphetamines and other stimulants as diet pills has dropped from record 1996 levels, but is still high in the United States, and dieting with those drugs has become popular in Asia, particularly Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, the INCB report said. The INCB noted with regret that the possible medical uses of marijuana have been used to justify the legalization of all marijuana. The board encouraged serious scientific research on the alleged medical properties of marijuana but warned against misusing the research to encourage legalization. The low availability of drugs such as morphine, codeine and other pain relievers in developing countries is another major problem, the report said. Governments should make medical services and pharmaceutical supply systems a public health priority, the INCB argued. Ambassador Herbert Okun of the United States, an INCB member, said at a press conference that the board is launching a "freedom from pain" campaign. "The fact of the matter is -- and it is a very tragic fact -- that the availability of these pain-killing opiates in the developing countries is tragically low.... In the top 20 developed countries compared with the bottom 20 developing countries, the hospital availability of these pain-killers is almost 100 times greater," Okun said. New technologies, which have helped law enforcement officers control illicit trafficking, have been used by traffickers to enhance their trade as well, the report noted. Dealers can design new drugs by "manipulating" molecules on a computer or learn how to make illicit substances on the Internet. The INCB reports that illegal drugs can even be sold at low risk through facilities such as the World Wide Web. On the positive side, government seizures of precursor chemicals used to make illicit drugs grew from three cases in 1994 to about 60 in 1997 after governments joined forces to determine the methods and routes used by traffickers, the report said. Those seizures have kept more than 4,000 tons of methyl ethyl ketone, acetone and toluene -- solvents that would have produced 250 tons of cocaine -- away from traffickers. In response to tighter controls, however, traffickers have also found new ways of processing drugs with chemicals not yet monitored by the drug treaties. When the 1988 Drug Trafficking Control Treaty was finalized in 1988, governments recognized that key chemicals needed to process heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs needed to be internationally controlled. Now, ten years later, they have also recognized that tight controls should be applied to common industrial chemicals such as potassium permanganate and acetic anhydride because they are crucial in making cocaine and heroin, the report noted. Some 112 tons of potassium permanganate were seized in the Americas in 1997, the largest amount of that chemical ever discovered in the region and more than had been found in the previous four years combined, the report said. Large amounts of acetic anhydride were seized in Asia over 1997, including a 16-ton shipment on its way from China to Afghanistan, which was discovered by Uzbek authorities. The INCB report also reviews drug abuse and trafficking by region. INCB reported that large cities and seaports in Africa are increasingly being used as transshipment points for heroin from Asia and cocaine from South America. The abuse of psychotropic substances diverted from legal channels has continued unabated in Africa, the board said, while at the same time narcotic drugs for justified medical needs are in short supply in many African countries. Cannabis is the most prevalent drug in Africa and the continent is a major supplier for Europe, the INCB said. Main producers include Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, and South Africa. Cannabis sites in Gambia and Togo have been detected and destroyed and illicit cannabis sites have been discovered in most countries in central Africa as well. The INCB is concerned about the lack of control over pharmaceutical products, including narcotic drugs, in Africa. "In many African countries the authorities do not possess the means of making assessments of their national legitimate requirements in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances ... or the means of limiting or increasing the level of imported drugs to the amount required to cover their legitimate needs," the report said. The board is also concerned about the growing manufacture of methaqualone and the drug "ecstasy" in eastern and southern Africa, especially in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, the report noted. In Central America and the Caribbean, cocaine seizures have risen steadily, the report said. "Crack" cocaine has become the second most abused drug in Central America, especially among the poor in larger cities. Urging Bolivia, Columbia and Peru to eradicate new coca crops, the board said that while the growing of coca leaf decreased in some areas, it was quickly replaced with new coca crops in others. Although Colombia remains the world's biggest producer of illicit cocaine, manufacturing and smuggling of the drug has increased in Bolivia and Peru, the INCB said. Abuse of "crack" is growing in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, according to the report, while abuse of tranquilizers and amphetamines such as "ecstasy" is growing in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. Opium-growing has increased in Afghanistan,said the INCB, which also expressed concern that opium and heroin have been stockpiled in northern Afghanistan near the Tajik border for trafficking. The report said that over the past two years, smugglers have used new routes to channel drugs to Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Western Europe.Former Soviet-bloc countries are increasingly being used as alternative sources for chemicals used to make heroin as well, the report said. The board also noted the need for strong money-laundering measures in many countries, including Israel, Lebanon and the Gulf states. Several European countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, are increasingly being used as storage and distribution centers for heroin, the report said.