INCB ANNUAL REPORT FAILS TO ADDRESS INEFFECTIVENESS OF INTERNATIONAL DRUG CONTROL REGIME


On March 2, 2004, the International Narcotics Control Board issued its Annual Report that surveys the ways in which countries that have ratified the UN Conventions on Drugs implement the provisions contained in the international documents.

What follows is a reading of the general content of the INCB's document prepared by the International Antiprohibitionist League on the basis of an anticipation issued by the INCB.

The Report focuses on crime, harm reduction, cyber-trafficking, pain killers, chemical control and regional situations. The INCB acknowledges the relationship between violence and illicit drug abuse as "highly complex" and points out that it needs to be examined keeping a range of factors in mind. The Report maintains that a demonstrable link to violence and crime exists in that some drug addicts resort to violence either to fund their habits or indeed as a result of the psycho-pharmacological impact of some illicit drugs. However, based on controlled laboratory-based experiments, INCB stresses that it is very difficult and misleading to suggest a direct causal link between violence and illicit drug ingestion. This link has to be examined with reference to culturally and socially situated factors, that, in turn, influence an individual's behaviour.

Among the INCB's recommendations there are community-based drug demand reduction policies with particular attention to drug abuse prevention in combination with a range of social, economic and law enforcement measures including : creating a local environment that is not conducive to drug dealing and micro-trafficking, supporting local efforts at employment and licit income generation, educational programs targeting socially marginalized groups, and integrated as well as targeted intervention work with risk groups.

The Board reserves particular attention to harm reduction policies calling on Governments which intend to include "harm reduction" measures into their demand reduction strategy to "carefully analyse the overall impact of such measures" as these may "sometimes be positive for an individual or for a local community while having far-reaching negative consequences at the national and international levels." In reaction to specific harm reduction measures, such as the establishment and/or operation of drug injection rooms the Board points out that "the operation of such facilities remains a source of grave concern" and "reiterates that they violate the provisions of the international drug control conventions."

Throughout the 1990s, several countries have implemented various measures to reduce the harms provoked by drugs, which in the end are the final product of prohibition; despite the successes obtained by projects and programs carried out with public support in countries like Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, the UN has never acknowledged the progress and successes of those alternative measures that have tried to treat drug users as patients rather than criminals creating an environment that, far from promoting the use of narcotics, provides them with safe and secure places where to cope with their habits.

After some 15 years, the INCB continues to chastise programs that have proven effective and successful in saving lives and in presenting drugs consumption not as a human activity to be criminalized, but rather as a health problem that needs to be dealt by physicians and social workers and not law enforcement officials. Although the Board's role is to monitor the application of the Conventions, it is quite surprising that a group of distinguished experts and scholars has never believe it appropriate to suggest a revision of the Conventions when confronted with programs that, while being in contradiction with the spirit and letter of the Conventions, save human beings and assist individuals with peculiar problems and their families and communities to live a less degraded existence.

Virtually no attention is paid to the link between Intravenous drug users and HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is occurring against the background of a range of other crises and transformations many of them rooted in social and structural inequalities that complicate the pandemic, should deserve more attention from the entity that is in charge of controlling the implementation on the Conventions.

The Report also draws its attention to a continued increase in cyber-trafficking of pharmaceutical products containing internationally controlled substances. Internet pharmacies, which can operate from any part of the world, play a major role in the increasing illicit supply of pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Illegally operating Internet pharmacies do not require a doctor's prescription or just offer on-line or telephone consultations.

Citing "uneven" and "lax" implementation of laws governing the Internet, the Board urges Governments to take a more proactive stand. To support legal action Governments should ensure that the offer for illicit trafficking and the diversion of pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances via the Internet are established as criminal offences. The Board also goes as far as pointing to the "dangerously widespread perception" that "misuse and abuse of pharmaceutical products is not as harmful as the abuse of illicitly manufactured drugs." The Board expresses its concerns on the fact that the judiciary in many countries still does not attribute adequate severity to diversions and trafficking of licit controlled substances. Far from studying the real impact of the current prohibitionist regime, the Board calls for an escalation in toughness vis-à-vis law enforcement urging prosecutors, judges and the police to do more in their fight against illicit as well as licit drugs.

Particular attention is also given to synthetic drugs and the launch of a new war on them. In fact, the INCB calls upon all governments concerned to join forces in combating the problem of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) abuse through Project Prism, a worldwide operation to prevent diversions of "precursor" chemicals needed by traffickers for clandestine manufacture of ATS. Regional operations were started under the umbrella of Project Prism in January 2003. These activities reinforce the existing tracking programmes, which were introduced by INCB a decade ago, to prevent diversions of methamphetamine precursors from licit international trade. Project Prism also follows the launches of Operation Purple in 2001 and Operation Topaz in 2002 which focused on the control of the chemical precursors for cocaine and heroin. As a sort of magic tool, the Project Prism is designed to give governments the capacity to address the ATS problem through a two-pronged approach: preventing illicit manufacture of the substances by stopping traffickers from obtaining the chemicals they require, and, identifying and dismantling the laboratories where such manufacture already takes place, by using a variety of law enforcement investigative techniques, such as controlled deliveries. The name sounds good but the recipe is the same. One can bet on the outcome...

Among the tasks for the Board there is the one of monitoring and ensuring that an adequate supply of narcotic drugs exists for licit medical purposes. Without acknowledging any contradictions with its previous recommendations, the INCB warns that the availability and consumption of some essential narcotic drugs, particularly opioids, which are used for pain treatment, including palliative care, remains extremely low in many countries worldwide. The Board has identified that the low availability of certain types of medicine can be related to at least three different factors:

1) unnecessarily strict rules and regulations created an impediment for providing adequate access of populations to certain controlled drugs in some countries;

2) the negative perception about controlled drugs among medical professionals and patients in many countries has limited their rational use

3) the lack of economic means and insufficient resources for health care has resulted in inadequate medical treatment, including the use of narcotic drugs.

The Board notes that the current global production is ample enough to meet a significant increase in the demand for narcotic drugs for the world population. The Board encourages manufacturing countries, in cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, to explore ways to make narcotic drugs, in particular opioids, used for the treatment of pain, more affordable for countries with scarce financial resources and low levels of consumption.

Finally, the Board presents a survey of the world. The Report gives particular attention to Afghanistan, noting how, despite the armed intervention and the political change in the country, as well as the fight against terror, illicit cultivation of and trafficking in opiates has grown. This may result in more political instability. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan continued on an even larger scale in 2003. As a result of two years of bumper crops of opium poppy in Afghanistan, it is expected that heroin trafficking along the Balkan route and through Eastern Europe will continue to increase - this, the Board says, may also lead to the reversal of the declining trends in the abuse of heroin in Western Europe.

The Board also recognizes the link between drugs and armed insurrections, something that has characterized world affairs for a couple of decades now; in fact it says that information gathered from conflict-stricken countries, in particular the Central African Republic, the Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, indicates that arms and ammunitions used by rebel groups and criminal organizations may have been partially procured with the proceeds of illicit drug trafficking. The situation is particularly grim in Southern America, where the increased focus on the political threat of the drug problem has led many Governments to devote an ever-increasing proportion of their limited resources to reducing illicit drug supply, including the eradication of illicit crops, the interdiction of drug trafficking and the introduction of measures against money-laundering. No assessment of evaluation of the costs and effectiveness of such an approach is provided.

In conclusion, the Board, once again, fails to take into consideration the failures of the system it is supposed to monitor.