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THE CREEPING CANCER

 Paper no. 1020          07. 06. 2004

by B. Raman

According to a 1998 study of the International Drug Control Programme  of the UN, the international illicit drug business generates  an estimated  $400 billion in trade annually, which is about  8% of all legal international trade and roughly equivalent to the total turnover of the textile industry in all the countries of the world put together.

2. An idea of the kind of astronomical profits earned in the illicit drug business could be had from the following figures cited in a  2003 study of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. A smuggler buys a kilogram of heroin in the production centres of Afghanistan and Pakistan for US $ 610, smuggles it across to the US and sells it for US $ 25,000 to a retailer who, in turn, sells it in the streets of New York  for US $ 55 per gram. In 2001, a kilogram of cocaine base in Colombia cost around  $940. It fetched in the US  about US $21,500, and in the streets of US cities and towns about US  $70 a gram in powder form.

3. The international community has been waging a war against illicit drugs for much longer than it has been waging a war against international terrorism--almost since the 1960sThe Nixon Administration in the US spent on this war in 1969, US $65 million. In 1982 the Reagan Administration spent $1.65 billion; in 2000 the Clinton Administration spent  $17.9 billion; and in 2003, the Bush Administration spent  $ 19.179 billion. In the US alone, there has been a twelve-fold increase in the money spent by the State on this war. There have been considerable increases in other countries too.

4.According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, federal spending on the drug war in 2001 totaled $18.095 billion, rising to $18.822 billion in 2002 and $19.179 billion in  2003. The $18.822 billion spent by the federal government on the drug war in 2002 had the following expenditure components:

* Treatment (with Research): $3.587 Billion (19.1% of the total)

* Prevention (with Research): $2.548 Billion (13.5% of the total)

* Domestic Law Enforcement: $9.513 Billion (50.5% of the total)

* Interdiction: $2.074 Billion (11.0% of the total)

* International co-operation : $1.098 Billion (5.8% of the total)

In other words, a sum of $12.685 billion in 2002 was spent on  supply reduction, i.e. law enforcement (67.4% of the total), and $6.135 Billion on demand reduction, i.e. treatment, prevention and education (32.6% of the total).

5.When can the international community   claim that it has started winning its war? According to the UN Office For Drug Control and Crime Prevention, it can do so only  when its drug control and crime prevention agencies are in a position to intercept about three-fourths of all illicit drug shipments moving across the world. Also when there is a significant reduction in the demand for illicit drugs due to successful education and treatment campaigns and weaning away of  drug users from their habits of illicit drug use.

6.  How much are the drug control and prevention agencies intercepting to- day? According to the UN Office, only 13  per cent of all heroin shipments and about 28 to 40 per cent of all cocaine shipments. We are nowhere near winning the war.

7.  As a result of  the huge increase in the money spent to reduce the supply of illicit drugs to the market and the demand from  old and new users, results have been achieved, particularly in the reduction of demand for cocaine, but the demand for illicit drugs of varous kinds is still disturbingly high. In the US for which statistics are available, in 2000, Americans spent an estimated $36 billion on cocaine, $11 billion on marijuana, $10 billion on heroin, $5.4 billion on methamphetamine, and $2.4 billion on other illegal substances. It is estimated  that approximately 259 metric tons of cocaine and 13.3 metric tons of heroin were consumed by U.S. drug users during 2000. According to a study on What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, they spent $36 billion on cocaine in 2000, a decrease from the $69.9 billion spent in 1990. Americans consumed 259 metric tons of cocaine in 2000, a decrease from the 447 metric tons consumed in 1990. Despite this, there were an estimated 2,707,000 chronic cocaine users and 3,035,000 occasional cocaine users in the United States. The annual U.S. consumption of heroin is estimated at 13 to 18 metric tons. A rough estimate of the hardcore heroin addict population in the US places the number between 750,000 and 1,000,000 users.

 8.Such large-scale use of illicit drugs has an adverse impact on public health. The flow of part of the money generated by the illicit drug trade into the hands of insurgent and terrorist groups has an impact, inter alia, on international peace and security and on the global economy. And, the adverse impact of the illicit drug use on national economies affects industrial produtivity and reduces the availability of  funds for puposes such as spread of education, better health care and improving the quality of life of the deprived sections of the population.

9.What is the impact on public health? According to studies by experts, chronic heroin use can lead to  scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses and other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney disease. Poor health conditions and depressed respiration from heroin use can cause lung complications, including various types of pneumonia and tuberculosis. Long-term effects of heroin use also cause arthritis and other rheumatologic problems, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C (which are contracted by sharing and reusing syringes and other injection equipment). It has been  estimated that injection drug use has been a factor in one-third of all HIV and more than half of all hepatitis C cases in the US.

10. Experts warn that cocaine use can lead to disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attacks, respiratory failure, neurological effects  such as strokes, seizure, and headaches, and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Other  physical symptoms of cocaine use include blurred vision, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, and coma. In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the first use of cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest.

11.Marijuana abuse leads to  frequent respiratory infections, impaired memory and learning, increased heart rate, anxiety, panic attacks and tolerance.

12. A new complicating factor has been  a significant rise in the use of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and Ecstasy, originating from  Europe, China, Thailand, and other countries. Netherlands is believed to be the largest producer of the Ecstasy tablets. Since synthetic drugs are made in clandestine laboratories and not harvested from fields, there are no crops to eradicate, as with marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Collecting intelligence about such clandestine laboratories has been more difficult than collecting intelligence about agricultural plants that can be converted into illicit drugs.

13. What does all this mean for society ? Visit Manipur in India on the Myanmar border, which has been a favourite destination of heroin smugglers from the Golden Triangle. The increasing availability of heroin has weakened the administration, governance, the maintenance of  law and order, public morality, public health and  productivity and retarded  economic development. There has been a mushrooming of insurgent groups, many of them not even having any political or economic or other objective. They have taken to insurgency because it pays and it pays because of the support they give to heroin smugglers. Insurgencies thrive because of the support of heroin-smugglers. Heroin- smugglers thrive because of the support from insurgents. That is what we call narco-insurgency. Manipur is a disturbing example of a failed state.

14.Have you heard of narco-terrorism? Terrorists who thrive because of narcotics money and narcotic smugglers who thrive because of the support that they get from the terrorists. Why did many of the terrorists of the world gravitate towards the tribal areas near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border before 9/11? Because of the presence in Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda and their training camps. That was one important reason. There was equally another important reason. Because of the easy availability of heroin money.

15. Narcotics-smugglers have no permanent friends or enemies. They have only permanent interests. Protecting their narcotics trade. Anyone who protects their trade is their ally of the moment. Before 9/11, they helped Al Qaeda in its war against the US. After 9/11, they are helping the US in its war against Al Qaeda. The result: opium and heroin production in Afghanistan has reached record levels. Despite all the fighting that has been going on in that region and despite US and other coalition troops running around all over the place, Afghanistan  has maintained its position as the largest opium and heroin producer of the world today.

16. It has been estimated by international narcotics control experts that if all the poppy grown in Afghanistan in 2003 were converted to heroin, it would  circulate in  the market  337 metric tons . Compare this  with about 46 metric tons produced in Myanmar in 2003. Colombia and Mexico produce less than 20 metric tons combined. Myanmar’s production largely supplies the Chinese market, whereas Afghanistan’s  production is directed at Europe and feeds large addicted populations in Iran, South Asia, Russia, and Central Asia. According to United Nations estimates, illicit poppy cultivation and heroin production in Afghanistan  generate more than $2 billion of illicit income, a sum equivalent to between one-half and one-third of its legitimate gross domestic product.

17. What does  this mean for the regional economy? Remember the Bali bombing in Indonesia of October, 2002?Remember what happened thereafter for some months? Tourists in their thousands stopped visiting South-East Asia. International flights to South-East Asia were largely empty. Hotels and restaurants were deserted. Night clubs and massage parlours were without business. Retail shopping suffered.

18. Before the Bali explosion, the South-East Asian countries used to look upon terrorism as a threat to regional peace and political stability. After the Bali explosion, they also look upon terrorism as a threat to their economic development and well-being. Before the Bali explosion, the ASEAN statements used to talk of free trade as their objective. After the Bali explosion, they are talking of free and secure trade as their objective.

19. What is the use of  trade and economy being free if one cannot protect it from disruptions by terrorists? How can one  be effective in the  war against terrorism if one is  not effective in the  war against terrorist funding? How can one  be effective in the  war against terrorist-funding if one is  not effective in the  war  against narcotics production and smuggling?

20. What is the effect on national economies? According to a comprehensive study of the over-all cost of illicit drug abuse in the US made for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, the cost increased from US $ 102.2 billion in 1992 to US $ 143.4 billion in 1998. Since then, it is estimated to have further increased to US $ 160 billion plus.  Since 1992, the cost of illicit drug abuse to the US national economy  registered an average annual growth rate of 5.9 per cent, which was more than the GDP growth rate.

21. Sixty-nine per cent of the total cost to the national economy as a result of illicit drug abuse is due to the decrease in productivity for reasons such as absenteeism due to illness, hospitalisation and involvement in criminal offences, decrease in alertness and concentration at the work place affecting the performance of the workers/employees, increase in industrial accidents, premature deaths of trained workers etc. The total loss to the US national economy due to the decrease in productivity increased from US $ 69.4 billion in 1992 to an estimated US $ 110.5 billion in 2000.

22. Twenty-two per cent of the cost of drug abuse was due to the spending on law enforcement measures against suppliers and users of drugs and the maintenance of the criminal justice system to deal with them. This increased from US $ 21.9 billion in 1992 to an estimated US $ 35.3 billion in 2000.

23. The remainig nine per cent of the cost was accounted for by medicare for drug abuse victims, which increased from US $ 10.8 billion in 1992 to an estimated US $ 14.9 billion in 2000.The largest single item of expenditure was on the treatment of HIV positive/AIDS victims due to illicit drug abuse, which came to US $ 3.4 billion. This was followed by an expenditure of US $ 503 million on the treatment of children of drug addicts, US $ 434 million on the treatment of Hepatitis B and C victims due to illicit drug abuse and US $ 24 million on the treatment of tuberculosis.

24. There has not been a similar quantification of the cost of illicit drug abuse to the national economies of the countries of South Asia, but it is a steadily upward graph. What are the warning or worrisome indicators in the South Asian region? Reports of international drug control experts draw attention to the following:
 

 * Traditional abuse of opium and cannabis is shifting to the more dangerous heroin and injecting drug use (IDU), with the associated spread of HIV infection.

* The number of drug abusers is estimated at over 4 million, with the rate of increase among youth. being quite high.

* Heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan enters India from the north-west and from Myanmar through Bangladesh and the north-eastern states of India. Heroin seizures in India amounted to 850 kilograms in 2001 .

* International narcotics control experts claim that the southern ports of India are increasingly used by Indian and Sri Lankan drug traffickers  to ship supplies of heroin and cannabis to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

* There has been an increase in HIV/AIDS cases due to the fast spreading habit of injecting drugs.

* Estimated  HIV prevalence is as high as 80 per cent among injecting-users in the north-eastern states of India, which together have  over 100,000 injecting drug users.

* Use of synthetic illicit drugs such as Ecstasy tablets  is on the increase, particularly amongst the youth. Synthetic drugs are fast becoming part of the disco and dance party culture.

* Public education and awareness on the economic and health costs of illicit drug abuse is still weak in the South Asian region, as compared to the West.

* Sharing and re-using injecting equipment is widespread in the region since poor people who use drugs cannt afford to buy the injecting equipment. Professional injectors (those who receive payment for injecting a client with an illicit drug), with unhygienic practices, are increasing in number.

* In the North Eastern States of India, the prevalence of HIV infection among injecting  drug users (IDUs) in Manipur is estimated to have   increased  from zero  in 1989 to 50 per cent  of the users within six months of the practice appearing on the scene. In Imphal, capital of Manipur, the prevalence of HIV infection among IDUs is estimated to have increased from 61 per cent in 1994 to 81 per cent in 1998. There have been worrisome reports of  HIV infection spreading from male IDUs to their non-drug using  wives in Manipur. It has been estimated that about  45 per cent of the non-drug-using wives of IDUs have also caught the infection.

25. Any strategy for the war or campaign against illicit drugs has to have the following components:
 

* Eradication at the point of production.

* Interdiction of supplies along the smuggling routes.

* Education of the public on the economic and social cost of drug abuse.

* Rehabilitation in order to wean away not only drug users from their habit, but also poor and unemployed people who take up jobs as street sellers of drugs away from their profession by providing them with education and opportunities for gainful employment in various sectors of the economy.

26. In South Asia, while eradication and interdiction have been receiving considerable attention, the attention paid to the other two aspects is still very inadequate. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research foundation (ORf), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com )

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