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United Nations Releases Annual Report Card on Global Antinarcotics Efforts


April 1996

The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report reviewing trends in the global drug trade and compliance with international treaties in 1995 (United Nations, International Narcotics Control Board, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1995, 1996).

The report evaluates the state of world drug trafficking and various countries' antinarcotics policies in light of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Methylphenidate. The Board expressed alarm at the enormous increase in the use of methylphenidate in the United States. Methylphenidate, also known by its brand name Ritalin®, is prescribed to children and adults to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Ritalin® is a schedule II controlled substance.

The use of methylphenidate in the United States has risen astronomically since 1989, with about 90 percent of all Ritalin® manufactured worldwide being consumed by adults and children in the United States. Between 3 and 5 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are now taking the drug, with few checks and balances for physician prescriptions and little behavioral treatment or follow-up, according to the report.

The Board also called attention to the activities of an unnamed "parent association" and its role in promoting use of the drug. "Treatment of ADD with Ritalin is being actively promoted by an influential 'parent association' that has received significant financial contributions from the leading manufacturer," the Board wrote. "The Board invites the authorities of the United States to review whether ... the 1971 Convention prohibiting the advertisement of controlled substances to the general public is not being undermined by the activities of 'parent associations' advocating the use of methylphenidate."

[The "parent association" mentioned by the Board is Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD). For background, see "DEA Warns of Ritalin Abuse; Drug Manufacturer's Contributions to Advocacy Group Investigated," NewsBriefs, March 1996.]

"Black pearls." The report asks governments to be cautious of shipments of herbal medicines that secretly contain internationally-controlled drugs. Pills called "black pearls" had been imported to various countries (especially the United States) and sold as treatments for arthritis and other ailments of the elderly. The pills actually contained diazepam, the generic name for Valium®, a Controlled Substances Act (U.S.) schedule IV tranquilizer, and have caused illness and death.

Diversion. The Board saw increases in drug diversion and suspicious shipments of precursor materials (especially ephedrine) to Africa. Local authorities frequently claimed that the drugs were to be used for veterinary purposes when the drugs were in fact diverted for illegal purposes. In addition, the report warns that abuse of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes is growing, leading to an illegal smuggling trade in over-the-counter medications. Cough syrup containing codeine is being used as a "party drink" in some countries. The Board also expressed concern about the poppy seed trade. It asked governments to ensure that imported poppy seeds used for cooking have not come from illegal opium poppy plants.

Media. The Board cautioned the international media not to glamorize illegal drug use, especially use of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "ecstasy"). " ... [S]uch views can lead to false perceptions and can undermine drug abuse prevention efforts," the Board wrote. "The Board, therefore, calls on the media to ensure that their publications and broadcasts are not damaging and counterproductive to their otherwise valuable and necessary contribution to the campaign to prevent drug use."

Methamphetamine. The Board warned the United States that manufacture and use of methamphetamine appears to be growing. It suggested that U.S. authorities investigate regulation of over-the-counter ephedrine to limit the supply of that precursor for manufacturing methamphetamine (schedule II) and methcathinone (schedule I; ephedrone, "cat") precursor material.

Money Laundering. One of the most effective tools to fight illegal drug trafficking is attacking money laundering channels, the report recommends. " ... [T]he amounts of money involved in such activities are assuming such proportions that they are capable of tainting or destabilizing financial markets, endangering the economic, political, and social foundations of economically weak States," the report says.

[For a copy of the report, contact the United Nations Sales Section, 1 United Nations Plaza, Suite 613, New York, NY 10017, 212-963-1234.]