Monday 10 August 2015

Fighting the drug trade

A 2011 interview with Raymond Yans as the International Narcotics Control Boards issue their annual report.

Do you see any changes in the way the international drug trade operates?

If we look at Europe, a lot of trends start here and continue elsewhere. One trend, that is new, is the designer drugs, which are new chemical substances, such as mephedrone, which is just a little different to other substances and the people who use this, usually clubbers have changed from ecstasy, which can be difficult to find. It is much more dangerous and there have been quite a few deaths reported from this. It started in the UK in 2007 and is now spreading through Europe and beyond.

The focus on the report seems to be on criminalizing and using prohibition. Is that a rounded strategy?

We check how states are implementing the drug control conventions that they have agreed to. We know about the global debate, which is launched by those who claim that harm reduction is better than drug prohibition.

The problem is that if you try to legalise, do you think that the health of the population would be better? We don’t think so. If you consider that any new dangerous substance can be launched at young people, do you think parents will agree with this? We are aware that controlling drugs is difficult but we are not convinced that not controlling them is right.

The stress seems to be on law, not treatment or education. These new drugs you mentioned are designed to get around existing laws, I’m not sure a prohibition based approach is working

The INCB has a very balanced position. The first chapter of our report last year was on prevention. This year it is about corruption. We insist on the basic necessity of having a prevention policy. It is the most important thing in drug control, is to try and prevent the first drug use.

Another important thing is not to consider drug users as outsiders. They should be taken care of and every country should try to install facilities to treat them, including substitution therapy, such as methadone and syringe exchange programs. We do favour all of this, a balanced approach.

You get your information from governments around the world. If we take Afghanistan, there have been many reports that very high levels of the government are involved in the drugs trade. Does that compromise what they tell you?

We are aware of this and, we do have information from the international community as well. Our analysis is also based on that, not just what the Afghan government is telling us. On the other hand, INCB is a quasi-judicial body and we are applying to Afghanistan one of the articles in the 1961 convention.

Right now, we are preparing an important mission,  to the President of INCB for the highest levels of government in Afghanistan to visit us in Vienna, for a confrontation about the Afghan drug control, or not control, policy

How do you see the link between the drug trade and corruption?

Corruption is not new and it’s not limited to drug trafficking. It has been around since human beings started exchanging goods. We are trying to limit the scope. The problem is that some countries, which are now states where drugs, especially cocaine is passing through. The amount of money involved in cocaine trafficking is higher than some small nations wealth.

We see in some West African countries, a slow deterioration of the efficiency of the state itself. This is directly connected with corruption from drug trafficking and we want the international community to pay special attention to West Africa.

What would you like to see the EU do?

We could say many things, because the drug problem in Europe is an important one.

I would like to mention precursors, the chemical products that are used to make drugs, like acetic anhydride, used in refining heroin, and a lot is produced in Europe. With the help of the Commission and member states we could see that there is trafficking of this, from Western Europe, to Afghanistan. It is a very important point. If there was no such trafficking it would be impossible for Afghanistan to make heroin.

Last year, the European Commission published a report about the problems of acetic anhydride trafficking and underlined a few solutions. We are concerned that, one year later, none of those solutions has been implemented so we would like to ask the EU to take stronger measures over the trade in this chemical, so that there can be no diversions of it away from the legal trade to the illegal trade.

Highlights from the INCB report

In Europe alone, there are 15 “designer cathinones”; most worrisome is the designer drug 4-methyl-methcathinone (a.k.a. mephedrone). Abused in a growing number of countries, mephedrone has resulted in a number of deaths and has become a drug of wide abuse across Europe.

The abuse of cocaine is spreading from Western Europe to other parts of the continent.  1.2% of all European citizens used cocaine in the last year; Spain reports the highest percentage (3.1%).  The number of cocaine abusers in Western and Central Europe doubled from 2 million in 1998 to 4.1 million in 2008.  The combined cocaine consumption in these 2 sub-regions accounts for more than a quarter of global cocaine consumption.

The illicit market for opiates in Europe is the world’s largest. Western Europe is the world’s largest market for heroine and the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Germany account for 60% of European consumption.  The Russian Federation has the highest percentage of opiate (heroin) abuse (1.6%) in Europe.  European countries consume almost half of all heroin abused worldwide.  Practically all heroin available in Europe originates from Afghanistan.

The illicit and dangerous cultivation of cannabis is on the rise in Europe.  68% of global cannabis seizures in 2009 occurred in Western Europe.

Eastern Europe is one of few areas in the world where HIV prevalence is on the rise; the use of contaminated equipment for drug injection was the source of over 50% of the newly diagnosed HIV cases in Eastern Europe.

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