07/01/18 Yuri Fedotov

Century of Lies
Yuri Fedotov
United Nations

This week on Century, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Yuri Fedotov answers questions from reporters at a news conference to announce the release of the UN's annual World Drug Report; plus, we look at new research showing how the federal crackdown on pain medications has backfired, leaving cancer patients and others suffering with serious illnesses with few legal options for dealing with severe pain.

Audio file



JULY 1, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

On June 26, the United Nations released its World Drug Report, and we are going to hear from a news conference with Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the UNODC [UN Office on Drugs and Crime], and also Angela Me, the chief of the research and analysis branch, talking about that World Drug Report.

But first, a report was published in the British Medical Journal in June. They looked at the effect of the Drug Enforcement Administration's decision to reschedule hydrocodone from Schedule Three to Schedule Two. Schedule Three, of course, is less restrictive than Schedule Two, Schedule One being the Controlled Substances Act schedule which says no medical use, Schedule Two very tightly restricted, Schedule Three still quite tightly restricted but a little less than the Schedule Two.

Moving hydrocodone into Schedule Two was intended to crack down on diversion and to stop people from abusing opioids. Not surprisingly, it backfired.

This research found, quote: "The scheduling change in hydrocodone combination products coincided with a statistically significant, sustained increase in illicit trading of opioids through online US cryptomarkets. These changes were not observed for other drug groups or in other countries. A subsequent move was observed towards the purchase of more potent forms of prescription opioids, particularly oxycodone and fentanyl."

Cryptomarkets, that's like Silk Road, the dark web. We haven't heard a lot about the dark web, these dark net illegal markets, online drug markets, in the past few years. That's not because they went away. It's because taking down Silk Road didn't stop it. In fact, taking down Silk Road in 2013 really just opened up the floodgates, now there are a lot of these dark web illicit markets. Sales are booming.

Unfortunately, the effect of trying to clamp down and restrict prescribing backfired. As usual, policies based in prohibition fail. It's an easy lesson, you'd think, but it's one that we do have trouble learning. Again, this article, really excellent, and it's open access, you can read the entire thing. It's titled "Effect of restricting the legal supply of prescription opioids on buying through online illicit marketplaces: interrupted time series analysis." It's at, that's the British Medical Journal.

Some more data was released recently from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, together with the Patient Quality of Life Coalition. Their research found that in the past two years, cancer patients, survivors, and other people living with serious illnesses have experienced greater difficulty accessing their needed pain medications.

Changes in prescribing requirements, insurance coverage, and pharmacy policy are among the factors leading to a significant increase in barriers to pain treatment since 2016, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finalized their opioid prescribing guidelines.

According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, nearly half of cancer patients and more than half of those with other serious illnesses who were surveyed said that their doctor indicated treatment options for their pain were limited by laws, guidelines, or insurance coverage this year.

More than a quarter of cancer patients and survivors reported being unable to get opioid prescription pain medication because a pharmacist would not fill it, even though they had it in stock, in 2018, more than doubling the number who reported such issues in 2016.

Similarly, 30 percent of cancer patients and survivors reported being unable to get the pain prescription their doctor prescribed because their insurance plan would not cover it. A nineteen percent jump from 2016.

Now, look, as I said, I'm a cancer survivor. Cancer is not pain that you can just walk off. Cancer is not pain that you can just take an aspirin and deal with. The people who say that are sadistic. They're wrong. Putting people through torment, torturing patients who are sick, just to prove some kind of weird point? Dear god.

So again, a stupid policy based in the idea of prohibition, that's completely backfired, and here's the thing: The people who are suffering are the sick and the dying. This is what prohibition does.

Now, speaking of prohibition, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its World Drug Report on June 26. June 26 is the United Nations World Day Against Drug Abuse, it's also the Support Don't Punish Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform.

Now, on June 26, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime held a news conference to announce the release. Yuri Fedotov, the executive director of UNODC, was joined by Angela Me, who is the chief of the research and analysis branch for UNODC. We're going to hear now portions of that news conference.

YURI FEDOTOV: And I am ready to answer questions.


REPORTER 1: Stephane, thank you sir for appearing this afternoon. What is the definition of drug? Is marijuana a drug under the definition? Is alcohol a drug?

YURI FEDOTOV: First of all, there is no such definition. The definition is controlled substances. You can find the definition in the conventions. But, colloquially, people call them drugs. We assume, and we understand when we use this terminology, that drugs are those substances that are controlled under the international drug control conventions. Marijuana is in the schedule list of the conventions, so it is a controlled substances, and called drug. Alcohol is not.

REPORTER 2: Thank you for the briefing. Again about marijuana. More countries are legalizing marijuana, including recently Canada, and the UN Secretary General, when he was prime minister, he had a big role in legalizing drugs in Portugal [sic: Portugal decriminalized personal use and possession while Guterres was prime minister, but they did not legalize]. How's that impacting the work of your department? Do you think the UN's position with regard to drugs is not so anti-drug like before because of this new legalizing movement, globally? Thank you.

YURI FEDOTOV: Thank you. First of all, I would like -- yes, to quote from the Secretary General's statement on the International Day of Drugs [sic]. He -- of course, highlighted the need to have international cooperation and effective law enforcement responses to stop organized crime networks and drug trafficking with full respect of human rights in accordance with international standards and norms.

"At the same time we need to expand the evidence based approach to prevention, treatment, and support. UNODC outcome document outlines concrete steps for taking such balanced action, rooted in principles of shared responsibility. It is flexible enough to allow countries to pursue national drug policies according to their priorities and needs, as I did when I was prime minister of Portugal."

And he's absolutely right. What was decided by the government of Portugal is fully in line with the international drug control conventions. They allowed the use of some light drugs for personal use, they established this to avoid to get people into prison, at any instance, but that is a practice which is now widespread in many countries of the world, the law enforcement agencies, by establishing this minimal amounts for drugs which can be used for personal consumption.

The trick is that the international drug control conventions, they prohibit production, trafficking, selling, buying, storing, whatever, but they don't prohibit the use of drugs. That's why the personal use is not covered by the international drug control conventions, so what did Portugal, what some other countries did, is fully in line with the conventions.

What is going on in some other countries is a little bit different, and recently UNODC expressed its regret over the new legislation which has been approved in Canada and will be enacted later this year, which is a clear departure from the definitions of the drug control convention.

REPORTER 2: May I have a follow-up?

YURI FEDOTOV: Yeah, go ahead.

REPORTER 2: So, so then, according to convention, a limited use of drugs, any kind of drug, is okeh?

YURI FEDOTOV: No. That is not so. What is okeh, it's medical use and the use of drugs for scientific purposes. But as I said, there is a constructive ambiguity in the fact that drug control conventions do not criminalize the fact of taking drugs.

MATTHEW LEE: Okeh, thanks a lot. Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. Thanks for doing the briefing. I wanted to, I guess I wanted to ask you about punishment. At least in the past, some countries have used this UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and International Trafficking to unveil, in the case of China, executions of -- based on drugs. Also in Indonesia, they used this day to, at one point, announce the resumption of executions.

So I wanted to know whether you think that's kind of an unfortunate connection, because it's also -- June 26 is also the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, ironically. So, what can you say about, for -- about actual punishments that are meted out to people. Do you have any guidance on that?

And there's going to be, at 1:30 today, a protest, I guess, outside, scheduled to be on 47th Street, at which people are going to call for, you know, Support Don't Punish, and global drug reform, and I wonder, I know you said you're busy, but would you consider, I guess -- well, what would you say to those who find that this inordinate focus on punishment is counterproductive and actually encourages states to take actions that other parts of the UN say are inconsistent with international human rights law? Thanks.

YURI FEDOTOV: UNODC strongly advocates abolition of death penalty for drug related offenses. We did it in a very continued way for many years, and I have to say that overall this year, we -- we saw some positive dynamics in some countries, new legislation was enacted that, so to say, softened the punishment.

Of course, it may not be enough, but at least some steps have been done. But, in other cases, when the death penalty is being applied, I'm not sure that, there have been reports of some plans to -- to put to the firing squad someone on the day against drugs, but still, it happens, and UNODC is trying to react on that, and, as a UN secretariat in general, we're advocating the abolition of death penalty, or at least introduction of a moratorium to death -- on death, application of the death penalty.

That is a clear position. Death penalty has no support whatsoever in the three -- in the drug control conventions, and the outcome document adopted by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Drugs is a consensus document adopted by all member states of the United Nations, speaks about proportionality of sentencing.

MATTHEW LEE: Do you have any comment on the Philippines, just one follow-up, in terms of developments on the Philippines and the justification of extreme police techniques based on perceived drug dealing or drug use?

YURI FEDOTOV: UNODC issued a statement on the situation on the Philippines when all these events began, and we continue to monitor the situation. Unfortunately we don't have a presence over there. We don't have firsthand information. But we always stress that there are civilized, legitimate ways to deal with world -- with drug problems, including in the area of law enforcement. We are prepared to provide such support, and extreme action can only hamper our efforts to provide assistance and support to member states.

DOUG MCVAY: We're listening to a news conference, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, held on June 26, to announce the release of the World Drug Report from the United Nations. We're hearing Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, answering questions from reporters following the release of that report.

You are listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

We'll get back to that news conference in just a moment. First, August 17, 18, and 19 is Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest protestival, once again there along the Puget Sound, Myrtle Edwards Park. It's a beautiful, beautiful three mile long strip of land that they hold the Seattle Hempfest on each year. It is the world's largest protestival, as I said. Music and vendors and speakers, three days devoted to drug policy reform.

It is focused around marijuana, whether it's medical or industrial use or adult social use, but we also talk about other drug policy reforms and harm reduction as well. People from the syringe exchange, people like myself who do all drug policy reform, will be there and we will be talking about more than just marijuana, because the folks at Seattle Hempfest understand that prohibition does not work, that drug policy reform has to mean more than just making it legal for people to smoke, that we need to re-focus our energies and we need to realign our drug policy strategies.

I love Seattle Hempfest. I was invited again to speak this year. We don't have the schedule yet, but when I do, I'll let you know. You can find more information about Seattle Hempfest at I hope to see you there.

Now, one more thing coming up, and that's in October, is the Harm Reduction Coalition's National Harm Reduction Conference. It's the Twelfth National Harm Reduction Conference, though I must say, it is international, they have people from all over the world, talking about harm reduction and drug policies, although obviously with a focus on the US.

They hold these every two years. This year it's going to be October 18 through 21 in New Orleans, Louisiana. So if you have the chance, this is a brilliant, brilliant conference. Policy is my bailiwick, I do policy, but service provision, actually meeting people where they are, and providing services, and advocating for that service provision, whether it's needle exchanges or supervised injection facilities, I have so much respect for people who are doing that kind of community outreach.

They talk about policy as well, because obviously you've got to do something about policy if you're going to provide services. So, the Harm Reduction Conference, once again, New Orleans, Louisiana, those dates, October 18, 19, 20, and 21. You can find more information and register by going to

Now let's get back to that news conference, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Again, Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC, is joined by Angela Me, who is chief of the research and analysis branch. They are answering questions from reporters.

STÉPHANE DUJARRIC: Abdelhamid, then Carla.

REPORTER 4: Thank you, and you've answered my question on the punishment, but I will ask about Afghanistan. Is it still the largest producer of opium? And, it was, as such, during the Taliban regime, and now, did things get better or worse? Afghanistan.

YURI FEDOTOV: Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world. Just, I launched this World Drug Report, and you can find the figure. All over the world, 10,600 tonnes of opium, opioids, have been produced, plant-based opium, and most of this opium is produced in Afghanistan.

REPORTER 4: So, regardless of the kind of regime in Afghanistan, the production of poppies and opium is still going on?

YURI FEDOTOV: 2017 witnessed record level production of opioids, opium, and heroin in Afghanistan, which was never revealed before, and that is the first time we have such huge amounts, such huge numbers, since we started monitoring of this, of the crop assessment in this country.

That is a fact of life. What we're doing now, we're working with the government of Afghanistan. I just attended a meeting of the Security Council and briefed the Security Council on our plans on how we're working with the government of Afghanistan, with the minister of counternarcotics, to make a stronger political commitment and even leadership of Afghanistan to deal with these matters.

There are some changes recently in terms of more active action of all actors in Afghanistan to deal with this drug situation, but it will take some time.


REPORTER 5: Good to see you, Mister Fedotov. Some of the worst drug gangs and terrorists in the world as far as I know are in Mexico. Why has the Mexican government been unable to bring this under control, and are you doing work to try and eliminate this from Mexico?

YURI FEDOTOV: As I understand your question, related to this nexus between drugs, crime, and terrorism, which is a fact of life, of course, and, UNODC is developing this idea now, at a meeting on this counterterrorism week in New York, I'm taking part in many events, speaking about the need to put an end, and to disrupt this nexus, this cooperation, this interaction, which may be opportunistic sometimes, between different types of organized crime, different forms of organized crime, at least in drug trafficking and terrorism.

On the other side, if you remember, the last -- last year's edition of our World Drug Report gave an analysis that there is no direct linkages between crimes and drugs. And, there may be countries that are known to be very active in terms of illicit drug trafficking or production, but with very low level of criminality. They may be other countries with almost unknown, from the point of view of drugs, but there is a high level of criminality. There could be both.

So, it depends on the regions. It depends on the specific situations. And, of course, the situation in Central America, Mexico, and other countries is -- requires more efforts, more support, from the international community, to understand better what are the reasons of this criminality and how we can support these countries in dealing with this challenge.


REPORTER 6: What do you hope the impact of the production of this report will have on the users of drugs, in particular the young people?

YURI FEDOTOV: Of course, we have to expect, so far, I have to say that, in this report, you will find a figure, I gave you this figure, what is this figure? Thirty-one million problem drug users, which is -- which shows the situation is more or less stable in terms of the impact of the increase of production and cultivation of plant drugs and production -- on the consumption markets.

Of course, drug dealers are trying to expand this market, but so far, international cooperation -- so far, the international regime of drug control based on the three conventions has been able to contain these threats, has been able to contain these threats.

The impact on young people is special. Whereas they could become they first victim of those who are planning to expand the current markets or to develop new markets, that's why we need to address more the issue of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation. The prevention is one of the main objectives of our international strategy on drug prevention.

We launched recently, with some NGOs, an initiative, "Listen First," which precisely addresses how to deal with young people and adolescents, how to approach them, because they would hate if you start lecturing them. You need to listen to them to understand their concerns, and that it would help with dialogues, discussion would help to find the right solution for each and every group of people, or even from each and every individual.

STÉPHANE DUJARRIC: Thank you. [unintelligible] will now be the last question.

REPORTER 7: Thank you. If I may go back to the production of opium in Afghanistan?

YURI FEDOTOV: Heroin produced in Afghanistan, that is clear. What worries us is that there is a clear trend of increasing cultivation of opium poppy in the areas which are not controlled by Taliban, but also that the number of poppy free provinces is shrinking from year to year.

Those are problems which we need to address, and that's why our interaction, our dialogue and cooperation with the Afghan government continues to be highly important and relevant.

ANGELA ME: If I may?

STÉPHANE DUJARRIC: Go ahead -- no you go.

ANGELA ME: No, if I may, last year, we looked at actually --

STÉPHANE DUJARRIC: Sorry, if you could just introduce yourself.

ANGELA ME: Sorry. That's -- Angela Me, I'm the head of research at UNODC and so one of the main authors of the report.

No, what we looked at those last year was the relationship between cultivation and the area controlled by the Taliban. And we estimated that around 85 percent of the opium produced was under the control of the Taliban.

But, this year, we have seen, and we have also, as every year, calculated the -- how much the Taliban get, the profits that the Taliban may get from the opium production, and last year we were saying around two hundred million a year, but with this record production, we think that it is up to three hundred and fifty million that the Taliban will get out of this record production, which will have an impact, definitely, on also the security, because it means more powerful, more resourced Taliban group, that then they can strike, not only inside Afghanistan, but also outside.

REPORTER 7: [inaudible]

ANGELA ME: About, well, is -- yes, but this is not the control, Afghanistan, this is not only the Taliban, but also other groups, that control the territories.

REPORTER 8: Thank you. Can you share with us some information about production of drugs in both Lebanon and Morocco, please?

YURI FEDOTOV: On Morocco, we're -- of course, we assume and we know that Morocco is one of the largest producers of cannabis.


YURI FEDOTOV: Resin of cannabis, and supplies cannabis resin to other destinations. So far we have not able to do the crop assessment, although we tried, and we're in dialogue with the government of Morocco, with different governments of Morocco, for the last decade, and we'll continue to try.

On the Lebanon, I'm not sure --

ANGELA ME: We have some -- yeah, in the report, as Mister Fedotov said, we don't have a scientific method as we do for cocaine and opium, where we have satellite images in major producing opium country and coca country. So for cannabis, because it's produced much more widely, basically, virtually every country in the world produces cannabis.

The cannabis market is divided into two products. One is cannabis herb, that is basically all over the world, and the other one is cannabis resin, and the cannabis resin is more focused in, and the two main producers are basically Afghanistan and Morocco. And, when we look at -- so, we, but we don't -- we cannot say how much has been produced.

What we can see is that other countries, they report that they receive the substance from where it comes from, and so, definitely Morocco is mentioned as the source of cannabis resin for the majority of the countries in Europe, and also North Africa. Lebanon is also marginally mentioned, but not by many countries, and as many as Afghanistan and Morocco.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a news conference from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, announcing the release of their World Drug Report. You can find more information and get copies of the World Drug Report at

Well anyway, that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DOUG MCVAY: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.