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United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Issues Centennial Report

UN's 52nd Committee on Narcotic Drugs Meets in Vienna

Reform Organizations Return from UN "Beyond 2008 NGO Forum" in Vienna

Amsterdam Psychiatrist Frederick Polak Continually Embarrasses UN Drug Czar, Challenging Costa's Positions with Actual Facts

UN Anti-Drug Agency Embraces Harm Reduction

Redefining Loss As Victory: UN Issues 2007 World Drug Report

UN Issues World Drug Report 2006

US Pressure May Weaken UN Declaration On AIDS

UNAIDS: Syringe Exchanges Are A Necessary Part Of Global AIDS Prevention Efforts; UN Office On Drugs And Crime: Just Say No

UN Issues Report On Andean Coca Cultivation ; 'Lowball' Estimate Still Shows Increase

International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report: Warns Of Massive Increase In Opium Production And Heroin Use

UN Office On Drugs And Crime Buckles Under US Pressure, Moves To Reject Harm Reduction, Syringe Exchange Plans

Antonio Maria Costa Named Executive Director Of UN Office For Drug Control and Crime Prevention

International Narcotics Control Board Releases 2001 Annual Report; US-Dominated Board Restates Opposition To Cannabis Decriminalization And Other Policy Reform/Harm Reduction Measures

United Nations Drug Control Program Issues 2001 Global Illicit Drug Trends Report; Estimates Of Colombian Cocaine Production Revised Drastically Upward

United Nations Review Criticizes UN Drug Control Program Director Arlacchi

UN Report: Teens In US More Likely To Use Drugs Than Teens In Europe; European Youth More Likely To Use Alcohol, Tobacco Than US Counterparts

INCB Report Criticizes US Overprescription and Overuse of Psychopharmaceuticals, Also Slams Canadian and Australian Harm Reduction Policies

Council Of Europe Supports Harm Reduction Policies

United Nations Drug Control Efforts And Reports

International Harm Reduction, Demand Reduction, Supply Reduction

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Issues Centennial Report

The United Nations' World Drugs Report 2009 should surprise readers in more ways than one. Most notably for the drug policy reform movement, UNODC head Antonia Maria Costa's preface actually acknowledges anti-prohibitionist sentiments; provides a generally positive analysis of Portugal's decriminalization efforts; and, rather than approaching drug policy from a strictly punitive viewpoint, considers global drug laws in light of health-based, economic, and public safety concerns. More peculiar surprises include Costa's comparision of drug legalization to the legalization of human trafficking and slavery and his strange ability to put together a cohesive report while simultaneously, as Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann put it to The Drug War Chronicle, "talk out of both sides of his mouth." Nadelmann elaborates, stating that "On the one hand [Costa] admits global drug prohibition is destabilizing governments, increasing violence, and destroying lives [...]. But on the other hand he offers facile arguments dismissing the need for serious debate on alternative drug policies." He adds, "The report erroneously assumes that prohibition is the ultimate form of control when in fact it represents the abdication of control."

For a more indepth analysis of the report, stop by the Chronicle's June 26 feature ("UN Drug Czar Attacks Legalizers -- Legalizers Say 'It's About Time'"). You can also view both a summary of the report and download the full text in PDF form at the UNODC's web page (UNODC Launches 2009 Annual Report).

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UN's 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meets in Vienna

The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its first meeting since the 1998 passage of a UN General Assembly declaration that set out the governing body's 10-year drug control plan; the March 2009 meeting, held specifically for the purpose of evaluating that plan, did little to change the course of international narcotics control strategies, but the commission meeting was notable not only for its final declaration's near complete dismissal of thoughtful and hard-earned suggestions submitted by 2008 NGO forum participants ("Drug War Allies: Russia, Cuba, Pakistan . . . USA?") but, on a more positive note, for the lively protests anti-prohibitionist activists staged in Vienna.

For a thorough and targeted reaction to the UNOCD's resulting report, take a look at the Drug War Chronicle's March 14, 2009 feature ("Human Rights in the Drug War: NGOs Slam UN Drug Bureaucracies, Demand Compliance with UN Charter"). In addition, if you're interested in developing a fuller picture of the drug policy reform movement's concerns regarding the UN's approach - generally unchanged since 1998, as previously noted - to drug control, you can read the Human Rights Watch, International Harm Reduction Association, and Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Program-endorsed report, Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to International Drug Policy, which was "presented [...] in Vienna during a discussion of the worldwide human rights impact of the drug war conducted as part of a series of events countering the official CND meeting." Further, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs' own blog documents the sessions' proceedings here. The Harm Reduction Coalition also provides a useful FAQ regarding the 2009 review on their site

That the UN continued to endorse a criminal justice-based narcotics control strategy (as opposed to a harm reduction, public health, or evidence-based approach) should not surprise movement activists or frequent readers. But the theatrical demonstrations staged by reform groups outside of the conference only surved to underline the enginuity, creativity, and intellectual strengths that characterize our movement. And, indeed, the events were rather surprising. Leaders from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), among others, held "an open air press conference" during which "speakers gave interviews from inside cages;" displayed "symbolic urine samples to show delegates the absurdity of the war on drugs;" and dressed as mobsters while "distribut[ing] fake [USD] banknotes" featuring Antonia Maria Costa's picture "and a message in the name of In Memoriam Al Capone Trust, the international network of criminals, who congratulated the governments [for] keep[ing] drugs illegal, thus creating a huge tax-free income for them." For more information on these advocacy efforts, see the HCLU's blog post about them ("HCLU in Action: Stop the Global War on Drugs!"), and watch a caged Kris Krane speak by following the link on this page.

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Drug Policy Reform Organizations Return from UN's "Beyond 2008 NGO Forum" in Vienna

Over 300 drug policy-related nongovernmental organizations of all stripes turned out for the United Nations' "Beyond 2008 NGO Forums" in Vienna in early June of 2008 and returned to their countries of origin armed with, as the Drug War Chronicle reports ("Beyond 2008 -- Global Civil Society Tells the UN it's Time to Fix International Drug Policy"), "a resolution that [was] presented to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) at its meeting" several weeks later. The discussion was, according to the Chronicle, "sometimes heated," but the unanimous declaration of the NGOs at Beyond 2008 called" on the UN to "recogni[ze] 'the human rights abuses against people who use drugs," create an "'[e]vidence-based' drug policy focused on 'mitigation of short-term and long-term harms' and 'full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," "report on the collateral consequences of the current criminal justice-based approach to drugs and to provide an 'analysis of the unintended consequences of the drug control system," conduct "[c]omprehensive 'reviews of the application of criminal sanctions as a drug control measure," recognize "harm reduction as a necessary and worthwhile response to drug abuse," "shift [its] primary emphasis from interdiction to treatment and prevention" develop and implement alternatives to incarceration, and "acknowledg[e] that young people" not only "represent a significant portion of drug users worldwide" but also that they "are disproportionately affected by drugs and drug policy" and should thus "be actively involved in the setting of global drug policy." While the report was in no way binding, it represents a notable achievement.

For more information on the NGO forum, check out the Chronicle's June 18, 2008 feature and read the delegation's full declaration to the UN here.

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Amsterdam Psychiatrist Frederick Polak Continually Embarrasses UN Drug Czar, Challenging Costa's Positions With Actual Facts

Antonio Maria Costa does not want to answer ENCOD board member and Amsterdam-based psychiatrist Frederick Polak's question. For the last three years, Polak has presented to Costa (at every opportunity) the same simple query: "If prohibition is the only way to contain the drug problem, how do you explain that the prevalence of cannabis use is lower or similar in the Netherlands than in many neighboring countries?" As the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union explains ("Silenced NGO Partner"), "the hypothesis behind drug prohibition is that if we repress the supply of drugs the demand will automatically reduce." Thus, if that theory held true, marijuana use should have skyrocketed in the Netherlands after its government decriminalized the drug in 1976 ("Timeline: Use of Cannabis," BBC, 2005), and eventually implemented their much-discussed "coffeeshop" distribution model. However, "this is not the case: according to statistics cannabis use patterns remained relatively stable in the Netherlands and did not hit the sky as a result of legal availability." Clearly faced with a conundrum, Costa discussed tangentially-related issues in order to avoid the meat of Polak's question; when pressed again by Polak, the czar "lost his temper and grudgingly refused to engage in further discussions, giving the floor to another speaker, while Polak was approached by a security guard."

As intimated earlier, however, Polak did not stop seeking his answer after the March 2008 incident (a video of which can be viewed on the above-linked HCLU post). On December 6 of the same year, Polak composed an open letter addressed to Costa in which he stated that "On 6 December 2007 at the Drug Policy Alliance Conference in New Orleans I asked you the following question.&qout; Costa goes on to repeat the aforementioned inquiry and begins his next paragraph by stating that he is "still waiting for your answer." In short, despite having asked the world's leading authority - at least nominally - on illicit drugs a relatively simple question about marijuana prohibition three times, Frederick Polak has yet to receive an answer. Maybe next time, Mr. Costa?

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UN Anti-Drug Agency Embraces Harm Reduction

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has explicitly endorsed harm reduction programs including syringe exchange and substitution treatment.

In its publication released Jan. 22, 2008, titled "Reducing the Adverse Health and Social Consequences of Drug Abuse: A Comprehensive Approach," the authors at UNODC conclude:

"Member States should provide both prevention/treatment opportunities and the tertiary prevention measures to reduce adverse health and social consequences, as part of a comprehensive plan. Unfortunately, due to resource limitations, some communities are not able to provide comprehensive programmes which take into account the real needs of drug abusers.

"Many substance abusers, who would be motivated to treatment but do not find accessible well-equipped treatment facilities in their neighborhood are de facto condemned to remain in a condition of dependence and to perpetuate their dependence in social exclusion. Some countries provide only selective services and do not provide harm reduction opportunities for dependent individuals who are not involved in treatment. Untreated drug dependent people, without any contact to the health care system and welfare facilities, are exposed to the highest level of risk and may cause consistent harm to themselves and society as a whole.

"Measures to reduce adverse health and social consequences should be offered in a nondiscriminatory and comprehensive programme. If they are included in a comprehensive strategy, including easy access to high quality clinical facilities, drug abusers may be more motivated to seek treatment.

'Harm reduction' measures combined with good-practice treatment facilities may prevent immediate adverse health and social consequences and be effective in the long-term reduction of drug-related harm for individuals and society."
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Redefining Loss As Victory: UN Issues 2007 World Drug Report

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2007 World Drug Report on June 26, 2007, to coincide with the International Day Against Drugs. According to the UNODC's news release, ("UN Drugs Agency Reports 'Significant And Positive Changes' In World Drugs Markets"), "Whereas a few years ago the world appeared to be heading for an epidemic of drug abuse, growing evidence suggests that the problem is being brought under control, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said on Tuesday. 'Recent data show that the run-away train of drug addiction has slowed down,' he said in a statement marking the launch of UNODC's 2007 World Drug Report. The Report shows global markets for illicit drugs remained largely stable in 2005-06. 'For almost all drugs - cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines – there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of production, trafficking or consumption,' Mr Costa said."

Notably, the UNODC claimed that "Coca cultivation in the Andes continues to decline and global cocaine consumption has stabilised, although the reduction in the United States is offset by alarming increases in Europe."

The claim is notable because the UN's figures seem to be off by half. The UN claims that only 156,900 hectares of were used to cultivate coca throughout the entire Andean region. Yet on June 4, 2007, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombian cocaine production ("2006 Coca Estimates For Colombia"). According to the US ONDCP: "The results of the 2006 U.S. Government survey of cultivation in Colombia indicate that statistically there was no change in the amount of coca being grown between 2005 and 2006. The 2006 coca cultivation estimate is subject to a 90 percent confidence interval of between 125,800 and 179,500 hectares. The 90 percent confidence interval for the 2005 estimate was between 127,800 and 160,800 hectares. The significant overlap between the two years' estimates means that it is not possible to infer year-to-year trend information.
"The survey estimates that there were 157,200 hectares under cultivation, an increase of 13,000 hectares from the 2005 estimate, subject to the confidence limitations described above. The 2006 area surveyed increased by 19 percent compared with 2005, and almost all of the increase was identified in these newly surveyed areas. Because they had not been previously surveyed, it is not possible to know with certainty if the coca found in these areas is in fact newly planted and had not been producing for a period of time."

In other words the official US estimate for coca production, based on surveillance of an expanded area in Colombia, is nearly double the UN's guess. Though the reliability of both sources has been called into question in the past by independent analysts, the evidence seems to support the US ONDCP's estimate. The UNODC in its report admitted that "Consumption increased significantly in Europe, doubling or tripling in several countries over the last decade. In Africa, notably in the countries of western Africa, cocaine use has also increased." (WDR2007, p. 13). Also, the US ONDCP has been forced to admit that cocaine prices in the US are at or near record lows and purity levels remain high (for more info see CSDP's Drug Czar: Cocaine Now Cheaper, More Pure Than Before). Low prices, high purity, expanding market and availability – these are indicators of excess, not of success.

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UN Issues World Drug Report 2006

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its World Drug Report on June 26, 2006. According to UNODC (UN Drugs Chief Sounds Warning About Afghan Opium Production, Cocaine Consumption In Europe"), "Cocaine consumption in western Europe is reaching alarming levels while opium production in Afghanistan could rise again this year despite a welcome decline in 2005, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said on Monday. UNODC's 2006 World Drug Report showed global opium production fell five percent in 2005 while cocaine production was broadly stable. Seizures of both drugs, especially cocaine, reached record highs. Consumption of cannabis, the most widely used illicit drug, continued to increase while the market for amphetamine-type stimulants stabilised. Africa is growing in importance for trans-shipments of cocaine and heroin to Europe."

The full two-volume report is available in PDF:
Volume 1: Analysis
Volume 2: Statistics

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US Pressure May Weaken UN Declaration On AIDS

AIDS experts and advocates are concerned that US pressure may hinder the worldwide fight against AIDS. The Washington Post reported on June 1, 2006 ("Weaker UN Declaration On AIDS Is Feared") that "Negotiations over an updated version of the United Nations' 'declaration of commitment' on AIDS are bogging down in battles over the language sensitivities of Islamic countries and the reluctance of the United States to have specific, very expensive global targets spelled out in detail. According to numerous people in close contact with the negotiating teams, the declaration that will be presented to the General Assembly tomorrow may be far weaker than the one adopted in 2001. Though that declaration was not a binding document the way a treaty is, it is widely believed to have been a key factor in marshaling the world's energy and resources to address the needs of AIDS patients in the developing world. Some participants said it will be ironic if the new declaration turns out to be vague in its goals and sanitized in its language, as an unprecedented number of activist groups and civil society organizations -- about 800 in all -- were invited to take part in preparing it and have been pressing for greater explicitness and accountability. 'We are seeing the U.N. system poised to take an enormous step backward,' said Kim Nichols of the New York-based African Services Committee. 'If we can't arrive at a unified set of global targets, then we're in deep, deep trouble.'"

According to the Post, " UNAIDS, the United Nations' AIDS program, estimates that $20 billion to $23 billion a year will be needed by 2010. The United States now spends more on AIDS in the developing world than any other country and is considered likely to continue supporting the large number of people now getting antiretroviral therapy through the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) even after its five-year term expires. People familiar with the negotiations here said the U.S. delegation fears that the United States will be held more accountable than other donors for funding shortfalls that may occur in the future if the targets are spelled out explicitly. Civil society groups want a target of providing drugs by 2010 to 80 percent of people whose infection is advanced enough to require antiretroviral treatment and to 80 percent of infected pregnant women, as well as to all people who have both tuberculosis and AIDS. None of those goals is mentioned in a draft of the declaration dated May 30. The United States is seeking to have the document 'take note' of a goal of providing UNAIDS $20 billion to $23 billion by 2010, rather than having that need 'recognized.'"

UN officials and AIDS experts are expressing concern that anti-AIDS efforts are faltering internationally. Reuters reported on May 30, 2006 ("Anti-AIDS Drive Still Falling Short After 25 Years") that "Twenty-five years after AIDS was first recognized, the world is still falling short in its battle against the disease with severe gaps in prevention and treatment, the United Nations said on Tuesday. 'Despite some notable achievements, the response to the AIDS epidemic to date has been nowhere near adequate,' said UNAIDS, the U.N. agency that coordinates the global campaign against the pandemic."

According to Reuters, "The global AIDS incidence rate is believed to have peaked in the late 1990s. About 1.3 million people in the developing world are now on life-extending antiretroviral medicines, which saved about 300,000 lives last year alone. Still, some 4.1 million people were newly infected and 2.8 million died in 2005. There were 4.9 million new infections and 3.1 million deaths in 2004. Fewer than half of young people were knowledgeable about AIDS. Among those injecting illegal drugs or having homosexual sex, few received preventive services last year. The global supply of condoms was less than 50 percent of what was needed, and antiretroviral drugs, while more widely available, remained costly and hard to get. Ignored in many countries are prostitutes, said Thoraya Obeid, the Saudi Arabian executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. She said they also had the right to prevention and treatment, especially since many were poor women or girls, sold into prostitution and victims of violence. However, a final statement by governments at the conference this week is not expected to refer to prostitutes, drug users or homosexuals, due to objections from Islamic nations, some Catholic countries and the United States which fear that merely mentioning these groups would endorse their behavior. Infected individuals still suffer from ostracism and discrimination, while the vast majority of the world's 40 million infected people have never been tested for HIV and are unaware of their status, the report said."

Reuters noted that "While $8.9 billion is expected to be available in 2006 to combat AIDS in developing countries, $14.9 billion will be needed, UNAIDS said. By 2008, it predicted, $22.1 billion would be needed, including $11.4 billion for prevention plans alone."

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UNAIDS: Syringe Exchanges Are A Necessary Part Of Global AIDS Prevention Efforts; UN Office On Drugs And Crime: Just Say No

On June 29th, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS released a progress report on international anti-AIDS efforts. As the Guardian reported on June 28, 2005 ( "Britain Rebuffs Call To Block Anti-AIDS Needle Exchanges"), "The US is pressing the UN to block the use of needle exchange programmes in countries where drug use is driving the spread of Aids, arguing that the schemes encourage users to continue their habit. But critics, including Britain, believe that the fight against Aids in eastern Europe, central Asia and other parts of the world could be jeopardised if the US manages to water down the UN's policy. The board of UNAids, the UN agency which coordinates the fight against the pandemic, is formulating a global prevention strategy in Geneva."

According to the Guardian, "Britain opposed the US position yesterday, when Gareth Thomas, the international development minister, told the meeting in his opening statement that the UK wants to see 'efforts to intensify harm reduction strategies, including needle and syringe exchange programmes'. He said: 'We support effective harm reduction programmes, especially needle and syringe exchange and methadone substitution therapy because they have been proven to reduce HIV infection among infecting drug users and their sexual partners in many countries.' The UK, he said, had 'a different approach' from the US."

The Guardian noted that "The row is critical, because needle sharing by injecting drug users is the main cause of the soaring figures for HIV/Aids infection in many countries, and provides a gateway for the spread of infection into the heterosexual community through the partners of drug users. Drug injecting is responsible for 80% of the cases in eastern Europe and central Asia, and is also driving the epidemic in a wide range of countries in the Middle East, north Africa, south and south-east Asia and Latin America. HIV prevalence within certain populations of drug injectors exceeds 80%. Europe accepts evidence from studies which have shown needle exchanges to curb the spread of infection, but the US, which will not fund such studies domestically, does not."

This issue, of HIV/AIDS and support for needle exchanges, dramatically illustrates the gap between the UN's drug control agency and the public health & medicine sector. As the Guardian noted, "The issue has already become fraught. At a meeting in Vienna earlier this year the UN agency responsible for the policing of narcotics, the United Nations office on drugs and crime, was forced to accept the US line and oppose needle exchanges. USAid, the American development agency, is not permitted to fund or be involved with programmes that include needle exchange. Democrats are lobbying against the government's position."

(For background on the US pressure on UNODC, see UN Office On Drugs And Crime Buckles Under US Pressure.)

In expressing its support for needle exchanges, the UNAIDS report decried the lack of political will and intestinal fortitude on the part of some governments, primarily the US. According to the report, "Increased testing presents new opportunities to link people to prevention and treatment services, to supply commodities such as condoms and clean injection equipment, and to provide appropriate prevention support for people living with HIV/AIDS as part of the continuum of care."

The report continues: "Injecting drug users have specific prevention and treatment needs, including testing and counselling, needle and syringe programmes [emphasis added], drug substitution therapy and ART. While the need to implement and integrate these services for this population is becoming increasingly clear in the era of ART, political commitment is still lacking in many of the countries where these services are needed most. (p. 21)

In its World Drug Report 2005 (also issued June 29, 2005), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime avoided reference to needle exchanges. Instead, they chose to focus on the strategies of convincing injectors to quit injecting and on getting other users to quit using. As UNODC wrote:
"Despite insufficiencies of data, particularly on noninjecting drug use, there is no doubt that the use of drugs, whether injected or taken otherwise, increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV. If injected, the use of contaminated injection equipment can lead to the rapid spread of the virus in the injecting community and beyond. Certain drugs that are not injected can also increase HIV transmission due to their impact on sexual risk-taking behaviour. The sexual partners of drug users, whether drugs users themselves or not, can spread the virus to the larger community, particularly if they are commercial sex workers.
"Consequently, many researchers and analysts believe that the role of primary drug abuse prevention is widely underestimated and neglected for HIV/AIDS prevention. Also important are interventions to prevent noninjecting drug users from becoming injectors, and to encourage those who inject to consider non-injecting alternatives such as substitution treatment." (p. 161)

The World Drug Report 2005 also provided new estimates of the size of the world illicit drug market. Reuters reported June 29, 2005 ( "Illegal Drug Trade A World Force"), "Annual worldwide illegal drug sales are greater than the gross domestic product of 88 percent of the countries in the world, the U.N. said on Wednesday. 'This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster,' Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said in an annual report."

According to Reuters, " The UN report, issued in Stockholm, said the global drug trade generated an estimated $321.6 billion in 2003, the latest year for which figures were available. 'The size of the world's illicit drug industry is thus equivalent to 0.9 percent of the world's GDP or higher than the GDP of 88 percent of the countries in the world,' Carsten Hyttel, East African representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told a Nairobi news conference."

However, as Reuters noted, "The bulk of the money - $214 billion - was made at the retail level; drugs sold in streets and back alleys. North America was the biggest buyer, and accounted for 44 percent of all estimated sales, followed by Europe with 33 percent. Africa was in last place with only 4 percent."

Electronic copies of UNODC's World Drug Report 2005 are available from the UNODC website.

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UN Issues Report On Andean Coca Cultivation ; 'Lowball' Estimate Still Shows Increase

According to the UN, cocaine production in the Andean region increased in 2004. As the Associated Press reported on June 14, 2005 ( "UN Reports Cocaine Production Increasing"), "South America's cocaine output rose by 2 percent last year, bucking a five year downward trend as increases in Peru and Bolivia outpaced Colombia's clampdown on coca cultivation, a U.N. report showed Tuesday. Cocaine production rose 35 percent in Bolivia and 23 percent in Peru from 2003 to 2004, while falling 11 percent in Colombia, according to the annual survey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime."

The UN's estimates are dramatically lower than those produced by the US government for that same year (see US Cocaine Production Estimates Reveal Little Or No Drop In Production In Spite Of Intense Eradication Campaign ).

A copy of the UN report is available from the following URLs:
Executive Summary
or from the UNODC website.

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International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report: Warns Of Massive Increase In Opium Production And Heroin Use

The International Narcotics Control Board, a body of the United Nations, released its 2004 Annual Report on March 2, 2005. As The Guardian reported on March 2, 2005 ( "Attempt To Eradicate Afghan Opium Fails"), "Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narcotic state" with its biggest annual crop of opium since the overthrow of the Taliban, the United Nations drug control board warns today. The International Narcotics Control Board reports that the opium crop in Afghanistan - which is the source of more than 90% of the heroin sold on Britain's streets - reached a bumper 4,200 tonnes, up 800 tonnes on the previous year."

According to The Guardian, "Hamid Ghodse, the INCB's president, said the British-led attempt to persuade Afghan farmers to grow other cash crops had failed. In 2003 farmers grew 3,600 tonnes of opium poppies in 17 out of the 28 districts of Afghanistan. Now it has spread to all 28 districts, with the area under cultivation increasing last year from 80,000 hectares ( 200,000 acres ) to 130,000 hectares. The INCB said this compared with only 165 tonnes grown during the brutally enforced ban by the Taliban on opium production. 'The Afghanistan government needs to do something very serious, very quickly,' said Professor Ghodse. 'If it is not going to be a narcotics state, which is a risk, then Afghanistan needs to do very urgent action in eradication and alternative development.' Although opium prices fell considerably between 2003 and 2004 they remain above $100 ( £52 ) a kg - far higher than any other cash crop - and a crucial source of finance for the private armies of the drug warlords in Afghanistan. The crop eradication programme is supported by a British-led international consortium, and tries to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops through negotiation. But it is now believed to be under pressure from the American administration which wants to adopt a forced crop eradication programme similar to that seen in Colombia in the last five years."

The Guardian also noted that "The UN report also warns of an alarming spread in HIV/Aids among injecting drug users in eastern Europe, Russia and central Europe with an estimated 4 million people now believed to be infected. Britain's former deputy drug tsar Mike Trace said yesterday there would be an alarming US-led attempt next week at the UN's annual commission on narcotic drugs meeting in Vienna to rule out the use of needle exchange and other programmes to deal with the growing epidemic. Needle exchange schemes have been used in Britain since the 1980s to ensure one of the lowest rates of HIV infection among heroin injectors in Europe. Mr Trace, now a spokesman for the International Drug Policy Consortium, said governments that provided practical help, such as free access to clean syringes, could achieve significant reductions in the level of HIV infections. But he said the US was consciously trying to tie aid to 'moral lines in the sand' and would not endorse needle exchanges or heroin substitution programmes. Britain and the rest of the EU are expected to criticise the move in Vienna next week but a vote to withdraw support from needle exchange programmes would send a damaging signal to the governments of the former Soviet Union."

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UN Office On Drugs And Crime Buckles Under US Pressure, Moves To Reject Harm Reduction, Syringe Exchange Plans

The United Nation's Office on Drugs and Crime plans a major shift in drug policy. The London Observer reported on Feb. 6, 2005 ( "US Cash Threat To AIDS War") that "The Bush administration opposes any programme that appears to condone the continued use of drugs, and wants the UN to seek abstention by users, combined with an end to narcotics production. Drug experts believe that if the UN shelved its so-called 'harm reduction' strategy in favour of an outright war on drugs, it could contribute to a rise in the rate of infection with HIV/Aids through shared needles and unsafe sex, as well as increasing the number of addicts."

According to the Observer, "Correspondence seen by The Observer shows that on 10 November 2004, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ( UNODC ) held a meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles to discuss the Bush administration's concerns about the direction the UN was taking. A leaked letter sent by Costa the next day shows him agreeing to demands to expunge references about harm reduction from UNODC literature and statements. 'On the the general issue of 'harm reduction', I share your concern. Under the guise of 'harm reduction', there are people working disingenuously to alter the world's opposition to drugs. These people can misuse our well-intentioned statements for their own agenda, and this we cannot allow. Accordingly, as we discussed in our meeting, we are reviewing all our statements, both printed and electronic, and will be even more vigilant in the future.' Costa goes on to clarify the UN agency's position on needle exchanges, where addicts are given clean injecting equipment to minimise the risk of infection from HIV and and hepatitis. In words that have caused alarm among drug treatment experts, Costa wrote: 'We neither endorse needle exchanges as a solution for drug abuse, nor support public statements advocating such practices.'"

The Netherlands-based Transnational Institute points out that this shift completely contradicts other UN policy positions as well as the scientific literature. In the TNI webpage on the UN and harm reduction, they point out that "This position taken by Mr Costa under US pressure is in direct conflict with many statements made by other UN agencies on this issue as well with statements made by UNODC representatives or in UNODC documents in the recent past. More than ever, inconsistency reigns within the UN around an issue all 191 UN Member States have pledged to achieve in the Millennium Development Goals: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS."

TNI continues:
"The General Assembly Special Session in 2001 on HIV/AIDS adopted a Declaration of Commitment [PDF document] saying that 'harm reduction efforts related to drug use,' and 'expanded access to essential commodities, including [] sterile injecting equipment' should be ensured by 2005. Both WHO and UNAIDS use the term harm reduction as a matter of course. 'The United Nations fully endorses the fundamental principles of harm reduction,' according to Catherine Hankins, associate director of UNAIDS in her opening address [PDF document] at the 13th International Conference on Drug Related Harm in Slovenia, 2002.
"The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has been regularly out of tune with the rest of the UN community on the issue of harm reduction. INCB president Philip Emafo, for example, considered in an interview even needle exchange to be contrary to the conventions and condemned the harm reduction policy trend as a 'crusade' to undermine them. UNODC legal experts (at the time under the name of UNDCP), however, argued in a confidential and authoritative memorandum to the INCB in 2002, Flexibility of Treaty Provisions as Regards Harm Reduction Approaches [PDF document] that most harm reduction measures are in fact acceptable under the conventions. According to the Legal Affairs Section 'it could easily be argued that the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction provide a clear mandate for the institution of harm reduction policies that, respecting cultural and gender differences, provide for a more supportive environment for drug users.'"

Indeed, as TNI points out, Mr. Costa until recently was a supporter of syringe exchange and other pragmatic harm reduction approaches:
"In his Report to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) [PDF document] in Vienna,15-22 March 2004, UNODC Executive Director Costa clarified the position of UNODC on the issue of risk reduction for HIV/AIDS prevention. 'Twenty years of research into various aspects of HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users and the experience of numerous programmes and projects indicate that HIV/AIDS epidemics among injecting drug users can be prevented, stabilized and even reversed. [..] Taking into account that drug use is a chronically relapsing condition, policies governing HIV/AIDS prevention must follow pragmatic approaches and therefore must address high-risk behaviour first before striving to achieve long-term goals such as total abstinence from drugs. Effective programmes typically include a wide variety of measures, ranging from drug dependence treatment, including drug substitution treatment, outreach providing injecting drug users with information on risk reduction and referral to services, clean needles and syringes, and condoms [..]. Thus, those injecting drug users who cannot stop injecting can be provided with clean needles and syringes, those who can stop injecting but who are not ready for abstinence-oriented treatment can be offered substitution treatment and a variety of treatment and rehabilitation options can be made available to those who have been able to stop using drugs. [..] A comprehensive package of measures also usually includes treatment instead of punishment for persons convicted of minor drug offences, since incarceration usually increases the risk of HIV transmission. The scientific evidence and the experience with such programmes strongly indicate that the above-described package is effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission among injecting drug users and the risk of HIV diffusion from infected drug users to the general population.'
"Mr Costa reiterated that position in his address to the Bangkok International AIDS conference in July 2004: 'During the past decade, we have also learned that the HIV/AIDS epidemic among injecting drug users can be stopped - and even reversed - if drug users are provided, at an early stage and on a large scale, with comprehensive services such as outreach, provision of clean injecting equipment and a variety of treatment modalities, including substitution treatment. It is, however, a sad fact that less than five per cent, and in many high-risk areas, less than one per cent of all drug users have access to prevention and care services. In too many countries, drug users are simply incarcerated. This is not a solution; in fact, it contributes to the rapid increase in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS.'
"This gradually shifting UNODC position in the course of 2003/2004 towards the broader UN consensus on basic harm reduction practices forms the background to the current US pressure on tne agency. The combination of two resolutions seeking CND acceptance for basic harm reduction principles at March 2004 CND session, from Brazil on HIV/AIDS and the Pompidou Group on substitution treatment, plus Costa's position paper on HIV/AIDS quoted above and one on substitution treatment jointly by WHO/UNAIDS/UNODC was the prelude to the current crisis in UNODC-US relations. An angried US delegation made blunt statements during the session like that needle exchange programmes in fact might accelerate the spread of HIV instead of preventing it. Thereby denying the wisdom of their own top scientists. An analysis from the US Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General, Dr David Satcher, on Evidence-Based Findings on the Efficacy of Syringe Exchange Programs had concluded that, 'After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs.' As confirmed by the Leadership Statement on Injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS [PDF document] resulting from the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July 2004, saying: 'There is overwhelming, high quality evidence of very effective, safe and cost effective harm reduction strategies to reduce the negative health and social consequences of drug injection. [..] Experience of numerous programs and projects in all regions of the world indicate that HIV/AIDS epidemics among injecting drug users can be prevented, stabilized and even reversed by timely and vigorous harm reduction strategies.'"

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Antonio Maria Costa Named Executive Director Of UN Office For Drug Control and Crime Prevention

The United Nations named career diplomat Antonio Maria Costa to head the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. According to the UN Information Office Service on March 8, 2002 ( "Secretary-General Appoints Antonio Maria Costa Director-General of UN Office at Vienna, Executive Director Of Drug Control And Crime Prevention Office"), "Mr. Costa is currently serving as the Secretary-General of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London." In that position, Mr. Costa oversaw "political issues, institutional affairs, corporate governance and questions relating to shareholders." Mr. Costa has a PhD in Economics. He served previously with the United Nations from 1969 to 1983, following which he worked with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Commission of the European Union.

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International Narcotics Control Board Releases 2001 Annual Report; US-Dominated Board Restates Opposition To Cannabis Decriminalization And Other Policy Reform/Harm Reduction Measures

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board issued its 2001 Annual Report on February 27, 2002. The report offers few surprises and makes the usual criticisms of legal reform and harm reduction efforts (see for example the item below on last year's INCB annual report by clicking here).

The INCB report criticized western European nations for moving toward decriminalization of soft drugs, particularly marijuana. The INCB also singled out Australia for particular criticism regarding the heroin injection room trial going on in New South Wales. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on February 27, 2002 ( "NSW Gov't Rejects UN Criticism Of Heroin Injecting Room Trial"), "In a worldwide report released today, the board says the safe-injecting room trial shows the Government condones the use and trafficking of illicit drugs. The Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, says the report makes no mention of the fact the Government has promised to provide the board with the results of the supervised injecting room trial in Kings Cross."

The Australia Associated press on February 27, 2002, reported ( "UN Drugs Body Wants NSW Injecting Rooms Closed") that "The injecting room opened after intense debate on May 6 last year, a product of the state's 1999 Drug Summit. Supporters argue it is saving lives and providing referrals to help addicts get off drugs. The centre was currently used by an average 120 injecting drug users a day, its medical director Ingrid van Beek said. More than 800 clients had been referred to counsellors and other medical services and more than 100 overdoses had been successfully treated. There had been no fatalities at the centre."

Several US lawmakers and the DEA announced their support for retired Colombian General Rosso Jose Serrano to head up the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP). The Associated Press reported on February 18, 2002 ( "Famed Colombia Drug Warrior Proposed For UN Drug Czar Post") that "In a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, US DEA chief Asa Hutchinson said he supported Serrano for the UN job. A group of Republican US lawmakers first put Serrano's name forward in December." According to the report, the administration "has not said whether it will support Serrano's candidacy. The post was vacated in January by Italy's Pino Arlacchi."

Check the following articles for background on Serrano:
"The Warning From Colombia's Cerrano," Washington Times, July 27, 2000
"Colombia's Top Cop Laments Drug War," Associated Press, June 22, 2000
"Colombia's Drug Fighter 'World's Best' Cop," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 3, 1999
"60 Minutes II: The Secret Warriors," CBS News, Sept. 1999, with update Sept. 5, 2000
"Moscow Mobsters Link Up With Colombia Cartels," Miami Herald, July 3, 1998

The United Nations Drug Control Program issued "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2001" June 26, 2001. The report, an annual estimate of worldwide illicit drug production, trafficking and consumption, has warned in the past of under-reporting of cocaine production. In this year's report, UNDCP notes that "Thanks to the new monitoring system of the Government of Colombia, new cultivation estimates are available starting in 1999 (Colombia(I)). It is important to note that, due to the use of different methodologies, the resulting data cannot be compared with data for previous years derived on US surveys (Colombia(II))." In 1999, a coca was cultivated on a total of 160,119 hectares in Colombia. In 2000, the amount of land under cultivation was estimated to have risen to 163,289 hectares. By the previous, US-derived measure, Colombia was estimated to have had only 101,800 hectares of coca under cultivation in 1998.

The amount of cocaine that was produced in 2000 was estimated by the UNDCP to be 883 metric tons, down from 1999's 925 metric tons. However, in a footnote, the report notes, "The Colombian authorities recently estimated that cocaine manufacture in Colombia could potentially have been as high as 947 tonnes in 2000." The official estimate for Colombia in 2000 was only 695 metric tons.

The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services has issued a report sharply criticizing the UN's Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the UDNCP's executive director, Pino Arlacchi. According to the New York Times on June 12, 2001 ( "UN Review Criticizes Director Of Its Drug And Crime Program"), the investigations found "that poor management was costing the office money and talent, leaving the staff demoralized and often in the dark about decisions made at the top."

Dileep Nair, a former banker from Singapore who is the inspector general, was quoted in the Times story saying that the oversight office "'made it clear that the management situation at the office cannot be allowed to continue,' Mr. Nair said, in a comment that is highly likely to revive speculation about whether Mr. Arlacchi will be appointed to a second term early next year. Some countries, notably Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, have been outspokenly opposed to his reappointment unless the problems can be corrected."

The World Health Organization (WHO) held its European Ministerial Conference on Youth and Alcohol in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2001.

Highlights from the conference included a report comparing use of alcohol and other drugs by youth in Europe with use by youth in the US. The New York Times reported on February 21, 2001 ("Study Finds Teenage Drug Use Higher In US Than In Europe") that "Forty- one percent of 10th graders in the United States had tried marijuana, compared with 17 percent of those in Europe. And 23 percent of the students in the United States had used other illicit drugs, compared with 6 percent of the Europeans." The study was developed by the Council of Europe with the help of researchers at the University of Michigan's Monitoring The Future project, and compared results from the MTF with results from a European survey, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD).

(A summary report on ESPAD 1999 can be downloaded as a PDF file from In addition, this WHO Background Brief can be downloaded from the UN World Health Organization's European HQ website. Also, a 4-page set of graphs from the ESPAD Summary volume 2 tables and charts, in which marijuana use by young people in Europe and the US is compared, is available by clicking here.

The WHO also reported that alcohol is the number one killer of young men in Europe, according to new data from their Global Burden of Disease 2000 Study. The release notes that "One in four deaths of European men in the group aged 15-29 years is related to alcohol. In parts of eastern Europe, the figure is as high as one in three."

The UN's International Narcotics Board issued its 2000 anual report in early 2001. The report, available online in PDF format, details world consumption and production of both legal and illegal narcotic drugs and issues cautions based on their analysis.

According to the INCB, the US and many other nations face a problem of over-use of prescribed drugs. The BBC reported that according to the INCB, "Benzodiazepines are a major problem. In Europe, the forms of drug used as a sedative are used three times as often as in the US. But in the US, the forms of benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and obesity disorders are used 10 times more often than in Europe. Loose prescription regulations, aggressive marketing and unethical prescribing were highlighted as problems."

The INCB also singled out for criticism drug policies in both Australia and Canada.

The Australian Associated Press reports that "The United Nations has criticised Australian states for challenging the Federal Government's anti-heroin injection room stance." Also, the AAP story says that "the INCB also said it was concerned about the high social acceptance of illicit drugs and the large number of people in favour of the legalisation of drugs in Australia."

Regarding Canada, the Toronto Star reports that "The United Nations' International Narcotics Board has criticized Canada for its lax attitude toward illegal growers of cannabis and failure to control illicit production of drugs such as 'ice' and 'ecstasy'."

A growing divide is developing between the UN's anti-drug bodies and Europe, Australia and Canada. In contrast with the INCB's report, the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report that "commends the approach taken by Switzerland, which has significantly reduced drug-related deaths since 1994 using controversial prevention and treatment programmes including needle exchanges, injection rooms, heroin for severely addicted users, and housing and employment programmes for addicts.".

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