03/22/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week our coverage continues of the annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Audio file


MARCH 22, 2015


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: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Now, on with the show.

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the CND, had its 58th annual meeting recently. Next year is the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, the UNGASS, and that topic took up a good bit of time at this year's CND.

Last week, we heard from representatives of civil society who attended that meeting. This week our coverage of the CND continues with audio from some of the officials and delegates who attended. First, let's hear from Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Yury FEDOTOV: This year the 58th session of the Commission of Narcotic Drugs is of particular importance as it contains a segment dedicated to preparation for the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem to be held in 2016.

The UN General Assembly resolution 69/200 entrusted the CND with leading an inclusive preparatory process for the special session, with the substantive contributions from the UN family, international and regional organizations, civil society and other relevant stakeholders.

The process is already well underway, building on 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action and the Joint Ministerial Statement adopted by 2014 High Level Review, and I welcome the progress that has been made. This includes the consensus decision adopted by the Commission in December to establish a Board to oversee preparations.

I would like to commend the leadership of Ambassador Shamaa and the commitment and engagement of all members of the UNGASS Board. As ever, UNODC stands ready to continue providing substantive expertise and Secretariat support for the UNGASS preparatory process. We also remain committed to working in close partnership and coordination with other UN entities and specialized organizations.

I welcome the many interactions that have taken place with Member States, including through briefings and informal meetings. These briefing material, as well as the written contributions provided by our UN partners and other organizations, have been made available on the UNGASS website.

Many tasks lie ahead. We are relying on the active and constructive involvement of all Member States during the general debate and interactive discussions over the next days, with the aim of agreeing recommendations on substantive matters to the General Assembly and providing a road map leading to the UNGASS.

I would like to thank Ambassador Srisamoot, the Chair of the current session, for having tabled an important resolution aimed at guiding the preparatory process in the period ahead, and for undertaking the necessary and hard work in steering the efforts of the Commission this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, to quote from the Joint Ministerial Statement of the 2014 High-Level Review: "the world drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed in a multi-cultural setting through effective and increased international cooperation and demands an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing, balanced and comprehensive approach to supply and demand reduction strategies."

The hard work on putting this balanced approach into action continues, every single day, including through UNODC's effort on the ground with governments, civil society, the scientific community and UN partners. Working with you, we have put in place integrated, inter-regional responses linking UNODC's country, regional and global programs to confront the multifaceted challenges of illicit drugs.

This has helped us to achieve greater strategic and operational coherence in providing targeted, effective support within the framework of the conventions, and in full compliance with human rights standards. Our work is also strongly focused on protecting the health of people; including those suffering from HIV or hepatitis; ensure access to treatment services and essential medicines; promote fundamental rights; build viable alternative livelihoods, and stop criminals from exploiting the vulnerable. The results of our collective efforts are outlined in my report to you on the activities of UNODC.

At this 58th session of the CND a number of draft resolutions are on the table for your consideration, addressing issues including: promoting evidence based treatment and care for young people affected by drug use disorders, as well as alternative sentences for drug involved offenders; protecting young people and children, including from the sale of illicit drugs and new psychoactive substances online; promoting the role of drug analysis labs as well as scientific research, and strengthening cooperation with academia; promoting the use of the international electronic import and export authorization system for licit international trade in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; supporting alternative development, as well as international cooperation to respond to synthetic drugs; and confronting financial flows linked to drug trafficking.

The commitment of Member States to the balanced approach is clearly evident in the broad range of draft resolutions. UNODC is looking to the forward guidance you will provide during this session, also with respect to administrative, budgetary and strategic management questions. In this regard, I would like to express my gratitude to the standing open-ended intergovernmental working group on improving the governance and financial situation of UNODC for your efforts.

The week will also feature a number of side events and special events on a wide range of topics, highlighting the importance of the CND as the central policy-making body within the UN system dealing with drug-related matters. I very much welcome the interactions with civil society and scientific community planned for this week, and look forward to their further contributions to the meaningful and well-informed discussions that have been taking place here in Vienna.

We will also mark 60 years since the General Assembly decided to establish the UN Narcotic Laboratory, which is the predecessor of UNODC's Laboratory and Scientific Section, and we will celebrate 35 years of the lab in Vienna. This evening, we will be opening an exhibit highlighting the achievements of laboratory science in drug control, and I encourage all of you to come. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish all of you the best in the deliberations ahead and UNODC as your secretariat stand ready to support you. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century Of Lies, I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. We just heard from the director of the UNODC, addressing the delegates at the 58th annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in the opening plenary session earlier this month.

Let's listen now to more from that meeting. The United States was officially represented by William Brownfield. Brownfield is an Assistant Secretary of State and heads up the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He's been arguing lately for a flexible interpretation of the UN drug control treaties. Many people in the UN apparatus and also in the policy reform movement dispute whether there is any actual flexibility to those conventions. The concern is that this flexible interpretation argument will only serve to delay the inevitable, which is a complete reworking of the conventions. Here's Ambassador Brownfield:

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD: Next year's General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is the first meeting on international drug control policy at this level since 1998. It will be an opportunity to analyze achievements and shortcomings, and establish priorities for further action. Member states, civil society, and the public will all contribute to this dialogue. We hope all regions and UN institutions will join.

The International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Office on Drugs nad Crime provide unique expertise. Balance is important, and constructive criticism drives progress, but not cynicism, which inhibits progress and blinds us to what is working. We should not pretend that abstract debate helps communities suffering from drugs and related violence. In the spirit of common and shared responsibility and respect for human rights, the UNGASS should endorse tangible, operational measures. We can do so while we reaffirm the three UN drug control conventions, which permit states latitude to adapt to new challenges.

Last September, the Organization of American States produced a contribution to UNGASS that represents a 21st century approach to balanced, comprehensive, and integrated drug policy. Consistent with this, the United States will emphasize three UNGASS priorities.

First, to translate the achievements of science into effective policies, we must develop and implement global standards for substance use treatment interventions for public health officials similar to the global prevention standards that were completed two years ago. Wherever we live, our brain chemistry is the same, so our treatment providers should use common standards and criteria for treatment. We must also ensure the medical availability of controlled substances for those who need them.

Second, the UNGASS should share best practices in criminal justice reform. We can't arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Increasingly, the criminal justice and public health fields are working together to improve the well-being of our communities. Legal systems are developing innovative methods to manage low-level drug-involved offenders. We will all benefit from evidence-based assessments of criminal justice reforms, utilizing a mix of sanctions, court-ordered treatment,a nd other alternative sentences.

Third, we must build and promote the international cooperation instruments endorsed in the conventions. This includes extradition, mutual legal assistance, and law enforcement. New psychoactive substances remain a vexing challenge. We made strides stopping international diversion of chemicals to produce drugs, but traffickers now exploit domestic chemical markets where the drugs are produced, or use non-controlled chemicals. Working with private industry, we should expand voluntary controls to prevent domestic diversion, and we must extend UNODC's work on container security, with benchmarks for all countries to achieve.

Institutional vitality and resilience undergird all of these priorities. Effective, transparent, and accountable criminal justice and public health systems are generational challenges. They require long-term commitment and resources.

In 13 months, ladies and gentlemen, the world will direct its attention to the UNGASS. This CND will shape that debate for decades to come. We must do so with reason, scientific evidence, and a sense of responsibility, because the health and security of all our citizens depends upon it. Thank you very much, madam chairman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the state department's bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, speaking at the 58th annual meeting of the commission on narcotic drugs in Vienna, Austria, earlier this month.

This is Century of Lies, a production of the drug truth network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of drugwarfacts.org.

The Council of Europe is an international organisation in based in Strasbourg, France, which comprises 47 countries of Europe. It was set up to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe. The Pompidou Group is an entity of the Council. Its core mission is to contribute to the development of multidisciplinary, innovative, effective and evidence-based drug policies in its member states. One of the delegates for Norway, Torbjorn Brekke, spoke to the CND on behalf of the Pompidou Group. Here's that speech:

TORBJORN BREKKE: This 58th session of the CND is of particular importance, not only because it represents a milestone on the road towards the UNGASS 2016, but also because we will still have a long challenging road ahead in order to deal with the world drug problem in an effective and balanced manner, monitoring global, regional, and at national levels and needs.

Despite our common efforts, illicit drug production, illicit drug trade, illicit drug demand, illicit drug use, is as big a problem as ever. We have to realize that there is not one single recipe to solve the problems. We need a balanced, a comprehensive, and an evidence-based approach, for know that drug policy is a health issue, it's a human rights issue, but it's also a criminal justice issue and a global security issue. We have to strike the right balance between these elements of the world drug policy.

Next year's important special session should be forward looking, and address all aspects in a comprehensive and integrated manner, including issues where there are different views and differing views. We should not refrain from debating the difficult topics, being harm reduction, death penalty for drug-related offenses, respect for human rights obligations and norms, and evidence-based health measures that help improving the situation for drug users.

We should not forget that drug policy is about individuals, about human beings, and about saving lives. The UNGASS 2016 constitutes an opportunity to sum up the experiences, achievements, and remaining challenges of the world drug problem, and to outline a road map for further measures within the framework of the international treaties. This requires a good process and a broad involvement to ensure functional preparations, however preparations and procedures have little value themselves.

What really matters is the outcome. We look forward to a short and precise document with core recommendations, pointing out the main challenges and the way forward. To arrive there, we are totally relying on the thorough and broad reviews and analyses from a broad range of actors and sectors, not only the core UN agencies, but also the scientific and civil society. Norway applauds the establishment of the civil society task force, and the informal international scientific network, and welcomes their significant involvement and contributions.

We should not lose sight of the true intention of the treaties, that is the health and the well-being of humankind. This must guide our work. We need to develop international system of implementation of the existing treaties that not only ensures law enforcement but equally important is to secure access to medicines. Lack of such access is one of the most serious health and humanitarian challenges today.

As stated by INCB in the debate, three quarter of the world's population has no or limited access to necessary medicines. We must improve the situation of millions of people through our policy decisions of the CND and the UNGASS.

Furthermore, our response to the world drug problem must be in full compliance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, as the cornerstone of international legal framework. As many other previous speakers, we strongly oppose the death penalty under all circumstances, including for drug-related crimes. We support the abolition of other practices that are not in line with the principles of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law and human rights.

Norway wishes to emphasize that the implementation of the drug control treaties must respect the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Such implementation cannot be done in isolation, but we must, but must reflect the competence of other UN bodies, such as the WHO. We hear the view expressed by the INCB that socioeconomic aspects as poverty, food insecurity, economic equality, social exclusion, are some of the tactics that have an impact on the supply and demand side of the world drug problem. This has to be taken into account when preparing the UNGASS.

The treaties governing our work have two main objectives: to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes on the one side, and to prevent their diversion into illicit channels on the other. Our action must balance these objects, objectives, to the benefit of people.

Addressing substance use disorder, with all its adverse health and social consequences requires a lot of resources. We must of course help those in need, but we must also increase our prevention efforts within a public health approach, including efforts from environmental and universal prevention to harm reduction.

And finally, we need an inclusive approach. We need to encourage the active participation of civil society, including nongovernmental organizations and the scientific community. We must engage young people, drug users, and clients of drug-related services in the formulation, the development, and implementation of drug policies at all levels. Our ability to do so will be an important measure of our credibility and success. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Torbjorn Brekke, a Norwegian delegate, speaking at the CND's annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, on behalf of the Council of Europe's Pompidou Group. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the drug truth network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of drugwarfacts.org.

Now, let's hear from Mr. Paul Griffiths, who works for the European Union's drug agency, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction. Griffiths spoke on a panel on law enforcement and supply reduction strategies on day two of the CND's meeting.

PAUL GRIFFITHS: I only wanted to make three points here this morning, and the first of them is to echo I think what other panelists have already said. The first of these is the fact that the drug market, and the problems we see emerging from it, are inextricably linked with and exacerbate many of the other big issues facing our societies today.

And we see this at the community level, with respect to the impact on employment, public safety, and marginalization. And we also see this at the international level, in respect to the impact on social development, security, and the fight against corruption.

And this means, I think, that not only do we need to recognize the importance of the bigger context when we think about supply reduction, but it also means that when our activities are successful, the benefits are likely to spill over into other areas, and I'll give you an example of what I mean there a little later.

The second point I want to make is that from a European perspective, and I can only speak from a European perspective, I think it's fair to say now that we have a far better understanding of what works and what does not work when it comes to supply reduction. And here, I think we can show some evidence of success, but where this success is most apparent, it is when supply reduction activities are located within a comprehensive approach that gives equal weight to measures to address drug demand.

And let me give you an example of this. I can tell you now with confidence that heroin, the substance that had been central to the European's drug problem for the last 30 years, now appears to be in decline. We see this in the seizures data, with the lowest volumes reported in over a decade. We see this in an aging treatment population, with some European countries now reporting virtually no new young heroin users requiring help. We also see this in a decline in infections associated with this drug and decreasing levels of injection. This is a remarkable achievement, but what is the backdrop to these changes?

Well, I think that robust, joined-up, and intelligence-led policing on all the trafficking routes into Europe has played an important role. I think that engagement with producer and transit countries has been equally important, but so too has the massive investment that European governments have made into effective drug treatment. We estimate that nearly three quarters of a million individuals now receive substitution care for heroin problems across the EU. And this has simply removed a large portion of the demand from the market.

And what is startling is not just the impact that this has had on public health and on levels of heroin use, this to some extent can be expected. But perhaps less expected is the strong and direct correlation we've seen falls in levels of acquisitive crime. This is a positive message, but as ever in the drugs field, new challenges are never far away.

This brings me to my last point. Technology, globalization, and social and economic developments are impacting on all aspects of modern life. And now, not surprisingly, they're also having impact on the drug market and the kind of drug problems we face today. In Europe, for example, stimulant problems are far more apparent than they used to be. Producers have become more innovative both in terms of production techniques and in sourcing the chemicals necessary for production. We see this in the ecstasy market, where MDMA is now making a comeback. It appears that the successful efforts to restrict precursor availability have now been countered by new production techniques.

More generally, trafficking routes appear to be diversifying, with drugs moving through multiple channels and exploiting the greater opportunities provided by commercial transportation. And at the same time, organized crime groups are more internationally joined up and take a more multi-commodity perspective. So overall, we now appear to be facing a more dynamic, interlinked, and complex problem.

And this brings me on to one of the most important developments we are now seeing in the drugs area, a development that I think poses a considerable challenge to existing drug control models: the emergence of a mass market for new psychoactive substances. Last year, the EU Early Warning System received reports of 101 new substances, adding to the total 450 substances that are now being tracked by the system. It was another record year.

Recent years have been dominated by the appearance of new synthetic cannabinoids, of which 30 new ones reported in 2014, adding to the 134 different cannabinoid receptor agonists from 13 different chemical classes that we're currently monitoring. These drugs were unknown in 2008. A new development is that an increasing proportion of substances reported are from less known and more obscure chemical groups. Of particular concern from a public health point of view is that we have five new opioid drugs reported in 2014.

Last year, we formally risk assessments 6 substances in the EU. These include a powerful hallucinogenic drug, two potent opioids, a stimulant with similar addiction, action to cocaine, and a drug sold as a legal replacement for the disassociative anesthetic ketamine. In every case, these substances had aspects of their pharmacology that made them in some respects more worrying from a public health perspective than similar and more established controlled substances.

So, I can conclude by saying that when we stand back and look at the drug situation today, we can observe some grounds for optimism. However, we are also facing in many respects a more complex and challenging problem, and this will have important implications for both future demand and supply reduction policies and actions.

I think more speculatively, we also see now in Europe at least, some signs of a change in the overall logic of the market, a change which is moving away from plant-based substances that have to be transported over large distances, and towards local production and synthetic substances.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Paul Griffiths. He's with the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, and he spoke to the delegates on the second day of the CND's annual meeting in Vienna, Austria.

And that's all the time we have this week. Thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Recordings of this show and past shows are available at the website DrugTruth.net. While you're there, check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, 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 Policy Studies.