Parliamentary question by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Vitorino on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(3 October 2001)

Subject: Statement by the Director of the UNDCP

In an interview given on 5 August 2001 to "Famiglia cristiana", Mr Giuseppe Arlacchi, Director of the UNDCP, stated, among other things, that:Between the end of this year and early 2002, the heroin available in Europe will become increasingly scarce, the purity of the drug will diminish and prices will rocket.
How do the Commission and its service, the EMCDDA, view this prospect?

What would be the likely consequences of this scenario, in terms of public health and law and order?

Answer given by Mr Vitorino
on behalf of the Commission
(26 November 2001)

The statement of the Director of the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), Mr Arlacchi, was made before the dramatic events in New York in 11 September 2001 and the recent developments in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of illicit opium used for the manufacture of heroin, producing up to 75 % of the world total. The vast majority of the heroin available in the Community originates from Afghanistan. As the situation in Afghanistan remains unclear for the time being and with a lot of conflicting information from different sources, it would be premature to speculate on the effects of the recent events to the availability of heroin in the Community.

One of the targets of the Union Action Plan on Drugs 2000 - 2004(1) is to reduce substantially over five years the availability of illicit drugs. The measures to achieve this include, among others, ensuring high level of security at external borders, joint control teams and effective use of forensic and law enforcement information. Alongside with the Union Action Plan, the Member States have developed strategies and measures for drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation and for tackling the supply and illicit traffic of drugs. These strategies provide an overall framework for drug related activities and can be adapted to counter the variations in the availability of heroin and other drugs.

Also, according to the information provided by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and by Europol, the availability, price and purity of heroin in illicit market, as well as the amount of heroin users, have been relatively stable during the last years.

Finally, without taking any position on the likelihood of the scenario presented in this written question, some of the possible consequences of such a scenario could be the following. There is some evidence that when the price of heroin increases, injecting becomes a more favoured form of consumption than it already is in EU. This may lead to increased exposure of addicts to communicable diseases (Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), hepatitis etc.). The low purity level increases the risks caused by impurities. On law enforcement, higher prices may lead to an increase in drug related criminality, especially in property crime. However, the decreasing availability may also act as an incentive for the drug addicts to seek treatment and prevent the recruitment of new users, especially among young people.

(1) COM(2001) 301 final.