International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Annual Report Launch
The launch of the INCB 2005 Annual Report by INCB President Professor Hamid Ghodse, Board Member Rainer Wolfgang Schmid and INCB Secretary Koli Kouame was held in the Vienna International Centre at 11 am on 28 February 2006. Nasra Hassan, Director UNIS and Spokesperson UNODC chaired and moderated the press briefing.
Professor Ghodse opened the proceedings by explaining the structure of the Report, and highlighting the main themes of this year's Report. He introduced the thematic debate in Chapter One of the Report - the limitations of alternative development as it is practised today. He said that though alternative development had seen some successes, in Thailand, Lao PDR, Colombia and Peru, alternative development programmes could only be truly effective as an integrated part of a comprehensive and sustained national development programme.
He said that there was no "quick-fix" solution; the concept of legitimate alternative livelihood's needed to be extended to both rural and urban areas where illicit drugs are abused, instead of only addressing rural areas where illicit drug crops are cultivated.
Professor Ghodse also highlighted the worldwide increase in the smuggling of illicit drugs via the postal system. He said that the Board had been highlighting the importance of this issue for some time now: however, not only had the quantities of the drugs smuggled through post gone up, the number of centres involved in this trade had also increased. Over the past five years, almost every region of the world had experienced an increase in such activity.
The INCB President gave a snapshot of major trends in drug trafficking and abuse worldwide. Among them, he mentioned that cannabis was the main drug of concern in Africa, as it abused by 34 million people. In Central America and the Caribbean, he said that most countries in the region will need assistance in implementing their national plans, and urged the Governments concerned to step up their efforts in fighting the problem of drug trafficking and organized crime.
In the US, Professor Ghodse said that though the rates of abuse of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy had declined, the abuse of prescription drugs was emerging as a major issue.
Referring to Lao PDR and Myanmar, Professor Ghodse said these countries had seen a major reduction in illicit opium production; however the region, in particular China and Myanmar had seen a rise in the illicit manufacture, abuse and trafficking of synthetic drugs.
The President of INCB expressed his concern over the opium poppy production figures in Afghanistan which saw only a marginal reduction last year and is still high; however, he welcomed the Afghan Government's strong commitment to drug control, referring especially to the Committee set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to enhance anti-narcotic efforts.
In Europe, he revealed that the widespread demand for treatment of cocaine abuse was an indicator of the depth of the problem; Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom have all shown increases in annual prevalence of cocaine abuse.
Professor Ghodse also pointed to another worrying trend: the rapid increase in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. Illicit production has gone up in North America and South-East Asia, and is also spreading to other regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Oceania. He said this trend was driven by the traffickers' ability to divert ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the key precursors for methamphetamine, from licit distribution channels.
The briefing was followed by a Q&A session.
The proposal to legalize opium poppy production in Afghanistan which is being pushed by Senlis, an NGO, was brought up by many journalists: the Board responded by saying that it was in fact against the interests of the international community and of Afghanistan. Professor Ghodse said that this approach was "a simplistic solution to a much more complex issue" and that the Board had full faith in the Afghan Government's statement that discarded this option. Mr. Kouame added that in a country like Afghanistan, it was difficult to differentiate or even monitor licit or illicit cultivation. Mr. Kouame asserted that the problem of pain medication based on opiate extracts was never on the supply side; rather, the licit quotas of production of opium were already full.
In response to a question on whether the root of the problem of diversion of licit prescription drugs to illicit markets lay in price differences, particularly between the United States and neighbouring countries, Dr. Schmid responded that pricing of pharmaceuticals was not within the scope of the Board's work. There was a range of factors that caused the diversion of pharmaceuticals to illicit market, including malpractice by some doctors within the United States, as well as direct consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals. Answering a follow-up question on the magnitude of the diversion problem, Professor Ghodse emphasized that the problem was not new, but had grown hand-in-hand with the phenomenon of Internet pharmacies, which greatly increased the scale of the problem. Answering a journalist's question whether diversion of licit drugs was a greater problem than illicit narcotic drugs, Professor Ghodse said that some prescription pharmaceuticals were also narcotic drugs. The Board was not saying that the diversion of licit drugs was a greater problem than that of illicit drugs, but that it was as important to pay attention to it.
A question was raised regarding the drugs situation in unstable regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and south Lebanon. Professor Ghodse confirmed that the Board was always concerned about the fact that post-conflict areas were the 'best' places for drug traffickers and organized crime, and that the world community needed to be very vigilant there, as peace, security and development could not be achieved without tackling the drugs problem.
23 representatives of local and international media, including the Austria Press Agency, Agence France-Presse, BBC, Associated Press, Reuters, Yoimuri Shimbun, EFE, Wiener Zeitung and Austrian National Television (ORF), attended the launch.
UNIS Vienna also organized a launch in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in cooperation with the Slovene National Drugs Office, Ministry of Health. Ms. Gisela Wieser-Herbeck, Drug Control Officer, INCB presented the report at the Government Press Office. The Drugs Office provided an English to Slovene translator for the event. Every major Slovene media was represented, with the three leading papers (Delo, Dnevnik, Vecer), the national press agency STA and 2 national TV and Radio stations.
The Hungarian UNA, with the support of UNIS, launched the report at their headquarters in Budapest. Dr. Lévay Miklós, Professor of Criminal Law and Head of the Department of Criminology at ELTE, Topolánszky Ákos, Former Deputy State Secretary and Director, National Institute of Drug Control and Dr. Felvinczi Katalin, Ministerial Commissioner with the rank of Deputy State Secretary presented the Report. Professor Ervin Gombos, Secretary-General of the UNA opened the briefing. More than 70 persons attended the launch, including representatives of the Government, NGOs, media and students. The leading Hungarian TV channels and newspapers covered the Report. The UNA also translated the summary press release into Hungarian and distributed it to the media; it is posted on their website with a link to the INCB website.