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Central Drug Committee of the UN

Publisher: MUDr. Tomáš Zábranský Ph.D. | Last update: 27.10.2006

Delegations from Member States of the United Nations Organisation met at the 20th General Assembly in June 1998. Czech representatives included the then Prime Minister, Josef Tošovský, and the Secretary of the National Drug Commission, Pavel Bém. They signed the declaration on behalf of the Czech Republic. Other signatories included Koffi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UNO, Pino Arlacchi, the Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and representatives of another 184 states. The declaration gave the world community an unambiguous and ambitious goal: to substantially reduce substance use, as well as the growing and production of drugs, by 2008.

After several corruption and mismanagement scandals, Pino Arlacchi was forced to resign in 2001 and people in the UNODC do not remember him kindly. Not because of the corruption, but rather because the international drugs control regime he left behind showed easily measurable indicators of (lack of) success, and it is a grave threat to the UNODC. This is why the UNO Office on Drugs and Crime, under the leadership of another Italian, Antonio Mario Costa, is trying hard to divert attention from the 1998 goals.

The reason is that the hard data speak with unpleasant clarity: the number of drug users has increased by at least a fifth during the eight years since 1998, the harvesting of opium poppies and cocaine leaves has reached unprecedented dimensions, and consumers are not even able to consume the abundant supply of heroin and cocaine which pours from primitive laboratories in Central Asia and South America. The same applies to ecstasy or the home-made pervitin (methamphetamine), i.e. substances which do not require plant material for their production. Marijuana has become a common socially accepted drug in the eyes of a substantial number of young adults, despite the wishes of older generations and laws against it. Growing it indoors in flowerpots under lamps in basically undetectable small growrooms or growboxes in flats has spread massively.

According to unrelenting market laws, overproduction has resulted in the lowest prices for illicit substances in history – for instance, the street price of hashish in Britain went down by two thirds between 1995 and 2005 (a gram of hashish sells for approximately GBP 1.5, and an ecstasy tablet sells for GBP 3, while it used to cost GBP 9 in 2000) and the price of heroin, as well as cocaine and amphetamine-type drugs, has gone down by a third. The same has happened in the Czech Republic – the nominal price of drugs has remained at the same level since 1990. In fact, considering the fact that average Czech incomes have increased several times during last 15 years, it actually means that drugs have been becoming continually and significantly cheaper. Drug prices in the USA have declined even more rapidly, and the situation in the countries of the former Soviet Union is no different. In summary: if you are interested, you can get more illicit drugs for your money than ever before.

The trend is unambiguous and nothing suggests that it is likely to change. In the light of the failure of the drugs control regime which it was supposed to enforce, the UNODC is now trying to persuade the world and the UNO that it should evaluate its success by itself and that in particular independent academic or non-governmental scientific institutions should not be allowed to assume this role. It wishes to “measure” its success by means of the amount of money invested and “actions taken” instead of by means of predetermined goals – especially not those from 1998. In an effort to prevent alternatives to the malfunctioning prohibition being sought, it claims that the situation would be much worse without it – with no regard to the fact that it is impossible to prove something like that. At its Vienna summit (which was supposed to unify the achievement of the New York goals at the halfway point between 1998 and 2008), it incorporated a scene with a fifteen-year-old girl with an armful of flowers who was asking the director of the UNODC “on behalf of citizens” to “maintain the current drugs control regime” – the spectacle would definitely bring tears of nostalgia to the eyes of those who remember the congresses of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

In fact, the current rhetoric and practices of the UNODC are heavily reminiscent of the comical struggle of the Czech communists in the 1980s. Similarly to them, the UNODC does not work but rather “fight”, using inefficient guns and lofty-sounding yet empty words. It tries to relativise the ongoing failure to succeed, or blames it on all those who do not believe that a “world without drugs” can be achieved. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia used to believe that the failure of communism was due to blind believers who did not believe in a “classless society” Just like the incapacity of communism, the rigid conventionality of the international community is costing time, money, and lives.

The charade surrounding the final image of the 2008 General Assembly on drugs will culminate in an international forum in the course of the next year. It is especially up to the drug policies of the globally most successful EU states whether propaganda slogans or an evidence-based approach will win, and whether we will see a substantial and efficient change in international drug policy or just another festival of pontificating about unfulfillable promises.

Published in the Týden journal (43/2006); an extended version was published in the Neviditelný pes journal with the approval of the journal Týden and the author

Tomáš Zábranský is Research and Development Manager of the Centre for Addictology of the Psychiatric Clinic of the 1st Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague

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