Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and the United Nations
On September 23, the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime released a major report, Ecstasy and
Amphetamines - Global Survey 2003. The report didn't seem to get much attention in the
US press, but it was page one news, above the fold, in the September 28 Observer, the
British Sunday paper. The Observer article highlights the significant increase in ecstasy
prevalence in the UK, where some 2.2 percent of the population aged 16 to 59 uses the drug.
This represents a near doubling in British ecstasy use in the past five years. The British
National Criminal Intelligence Service estimates that each week, 500,000 to two
million ecstasy tablets are consumed in Britain, according to the Observer article.
It turns out that, on a worldwide basis, synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamine
(the report calls them "ATS," for "amphetamine-type stimulants") are much more popular than
heroin and cocaine. All told, some 40 million people worldwide take illicit ATS drugs.
The UN report repeatedly conflates drug use with drug abuse, as well as being questionable
on other grounds. Here is the first paragraph of the Preface:
Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are simple to produce and easy to take.
They are also (erroneously) perceived as less harmful than other illicit substances,
like heroin and cocaine. Indeed the opposite is true: designer technology, which
has produced and keeps refining these synthetic drugs, gives origin to several concerns.
Somehow, despite the erroneous perception, I doubt the UN would declare it a great improvement
were the world's ATS users suddenly to shift to heroin and cocaine.
In the press release that accompanied the publication of the report, we hear from
Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime (UNODC). (By the way, it is interesting in itself that the UN has chosen
to pair drugs with crime. Alcohol and crime? Tobacco and crime? Guns and crime? No,
drugs and crime.) Mr. Costa adheres to the (discredited?) criminalization model,
it seems: "Opting out, namely -- accepting any notion of the liberalisation of
the market, is not an option, as the health of our society is at risk. Better safe
than sorry," is the quote attributed to Mr. Costa in the press release. Perhaps later
I will address this common argument of the prohibitionists, that drug legalization
is too risky.
The Observer is an excellent source for vice news, incidentally; check out their drug