The UN and drug control

12 July 1998
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There is no doubt drug business is a mega business and no one can wish it away just like that because a colossal arnount of money is at stake. According to the UN, the drug lords and their associates and underlings of all stripes and under various guises enjoy the fruits of a US$400 (US$1=RM4.10) billion sales business, twice the take of all the legitimate pharmaceutical companies combined.

Perhaps, only the wildly successful blockbuster drug Viagra (and Pfizer's profit) may dwarf the drug money!

Talking about Viagra, I am told, it is more than just a pill to treat a specific problem of impotence. It also enhances the quality of life for "healthy" people like you and me. Try it but only if you are not a heart patient. You have been warned, okay?

The world's total income from the drug industry is US$300 billion according to Business Week and not US $200 billion as claimed by the UN. Whatever it is, it is a colossal sum of money. But wait a minute. Similar "wonder" drugs like Viagra are forthcoming: drugs for anxiety, weight problems, memory loss and symptoms of aging are in the process. The US$300 billion drug industry will be transformed.

Viagra, Viagra, Viagra! What has this drug achieved? Even rural delegates at the recent Umno's 52nd General Assembly were enthralled and spellbound listening to alleged tales about its prowess. I have not tried it myself but friends have sworn "Viagra is a godsend for men (with diagnosed impotence)."

There are in the pipeline other wonder drugs which control everything: hair-loss (balding), wrinkles and othe debilitating diseases and irritations which put off people! There will also be drugs which are the opposite of Viagra -m to control man lacking in self-control especially in regard to sexual desire or incontinence (if you are looking for one word to describe all this).

The foregoing begs a question: What is next after those drugs in th epipeline?

Whatever. I do hope they can only be good and enhance the quality of life on Earth. The UN, governments and th eprivate sector should now urgently recognize, even belatedly, the wisdom of promoting and improving health and quality of life through the eradication of poverty and suppression and elimination of the scourge of illicit drug traffickig.

The "good guys" battling drug trafficking is headed by the Director-General of the United Nations International Drug Control - Programme (UNDCP) Italy's Pino Arlacchi, famous as the Number One enemy of the mafia.

He is optimistic about the prospects of beating the drug lord and described the special UN summit as a turning point for the world to go forward with "renewed energy" on drug control. There are good reasons for Arlacchi's 'optimism - a politically more cooperative international climate devoid of of the East-West and North-South ideological divides, sophisticated technology such as the satellite monitoring systems andthe accumulated knowledge of th einternational community in drug control activities.

Then, one must also remember that if you put drug trafficking and abuse in prespective, something which Arlacchi also admits, it is rather a limited issue compared with other issus such as racism, the effect of colonialism, environmental degradation and global poverty.

The UN is spending a mere US$65 million (RM266.5 million) a year to fight drug trafficking and abuse. Whether the UN with its paltry budget can seriously help reduce drastically the drug menace by the year 2008 is a moot point. Arlacchi said that would do for the time being.

However, he told TIME he could stop all heroin and cocaine production worldwide in 10 years if he could persuade world leaders to cough out up to US$5 billion (RM20.5 billion) that he said it would cost - a little sum since narcotics addiction cost the US alone an estimated US$76 billion (RM311.6 billion) a year.

The good news is that two decades ago, the US had to fight battle alomost alone but now it can rely more on international support and cooperation because, according to Arlacchi, even such countries as Iran and Pakistan now register about a million addicts each.

Arlacchi may well succeed because he had persuaded the Taliban regime in Afganistan to stop planting opium in exchange for help in reconstructing a factory that will provide jobs for impoverished Afghan in Kandahar. Then, the Taliban regime publicly burned two tons of opium, enough to produce 400pounds of heroin roughly the amount a European nation would confiscate in a year.

Other successes have been recorded in Laos, Peru, Bolivia and Myanmar. In any event it is an important step.

The summit, if nothing else, did manage, even though very briefly, to capture the attention of some American media which routinely reported it in their inside pages!

I am more concerned about what we are doing at home. No doubt the government is serious about the problem of drug abuse and illicit trafficking. We have tough choices to make and as Tajol assured the summit "we have the political and moral responsibility to make these choices and if necessary, undertake tougher measures."

I do wish this determination, like other warnings, do not fall on deaf and unregarding hears.

Bravo Datuk Tajol!

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United Nations)