Capacity building, info sharing needed for better drug control in Pakistan: INCB report

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 6, 2013.

Islamabad – The government of Pakistan needs to focus on capacity building and sharing information with the provincial governments to effectively address drug control.

The Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for 2012 was released on Tuesday.

The INCB is an independent, quasi-judicial body that tracks the compliance of member states with United Nations drug control conventions.

The INCB report mentioned challenges posed to Pakistan’s implementation of UN drug control conventions by the post-18th Amendment scenario.

The report noted that the government of Pakistan has made advances in supply reduction and improving coordination between law enforcement agencies combating drug trafficking.  But it stated that “the devolution of responsibilities from the federal to the provincial level, foreseen under the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution in 2010, has yet to materialize.”

“Pakistan is a signatory of a lot of international drug control conventions,” Jeremy Douglas, country representative of the United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC) in Pakistan, said. “If you then devolve power down without necessarily really telling the provincial governments what they are responsible for, then you have problems.”

For now, the Ministry of Narcotics Control issues quotas of drugs that are used for legitimate medicine manufacture, the Anti Narcotics Force then checks on whether the quota is being spent where it should be spent. But once the medicines are disbursed, they can still be used for making illegal drugs or used in prescription drug abuse, and that is where the provincial health ministries have a role to play.

In September 2012, the INCB sent a country mission, consisting of a board member and a staff member, to Pakistan. Here the mission met with different ministries and agencies involved in drug regulation and monitoring.

The mission’s visit coincided with ongoing investigations for an Ephedrine scandal in which around nine tons of Ephedrine, issued to some pharmaceutical companies, were allegedly diverted away the companies.

The report made a subtle reference to the Ephedrine scandal by stating that the lack of a monitoring mechanism for precursor chemicals in Pakistan has increased the risk of these chemicals being diverted to manufacture illegal drugs.

A drug precursor is a chemical used to make illicit drugs. Ephedrine, which is used in cold and asthma medicines, can be used to make methamphetamine or “meth” — a highly addictive stimulant drug.

The INCB 2012 report also pointed out that Pakistan and neighbouring Iran have some of the highest annual legitimate requirement — or quota — for ephedrine. Incidentally, Iran has also risen in the past few years as one of the top countries in the world for illegal production and trafficking of meth.

In fact, the report mentions that Iran reported “several significant seizures” of ephedrine in 2011, some of which originated in Pakistan.

Douglas said one of the underlying concerns echoed in the report is the “need to strengthen the regulatory framework because a lot (of drug precursors) could be slipping through the cracks.”

“The ideal scenario would be to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Narcotics Control,” Douglas said. “It would be help if they can assess the need for a legitimate drug in the country and then generate a quota based on that need.”

Then, the field checks of the companies who are allocated the legitimate drugs could be improved to ensure if the quota is being used properly, he said.

According to the INCB report, Pakistan is affected more by cross-border trafficking, which has a local value of between $910 million and $1.2 billion, than local cultivation and production.

The INCB includes Pakistan in the West Asia region and it stated that the demand for illicit stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, appears to be increasing in parts of West Asia.

The synthetic drug issue has opened up a new, albeit small, front for Pakistani law enforcement already tied up with stopping the heroin and opium trafficking that originates in Afghanistan.

According to the 2009 UNODC report on “Crime, Addiction and Insurgency” in Afghanistan, around 40 per cent of heroin — or 150 tonnes — of Afghanistan’s heroin is trafficked through Pakistan.

Another 30 per cent of opium — or around 1000 tonnes — passes through Pakistan from Afghanistan each year.

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