World has enough legal opium to meet demand, says UN narcotics body

The current legal supply of opium, which has a number of medical purposes including pain management, is enough to meet global demand, according to the independent United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide.

Ensuring the availability of opiates for medical and scientific purposes is an important part of the mandate of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which declared that “currently, global demand for opiates for medical purposes is fully satisfied.”

The Board, which is currently reviewing the global situation of the lawful production and use of narcotics, noted that during the past five years, the total supply of opiate raw materials has exceeded the total demand for opiates needed for medical and scientific purposes.

Narcotic drugs in general, and opiate analgesics – such as morphine or codeine – in particular, are essential in the treatment of moderate to severe pain, according to the Board, which also noted that consumption is concentrated in a few regions; Europe and North America accounted for 89 per cent of the global consumption of morphine last year.

Meanwhile, the Board expressed concern at the low levels of consumption of morphine and other opiate analgesics for treating pain in the other countries, particularly those in the developing world. Concerns about addition and the reluctance to prescribe were among the main reasons for this, as cited in a recent survey among governments. The INCB is working with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) to address these issues.

During its current session, the Board will also examine the consumption of other narcotic drugs, such as methadone, whose use has increased more than three times over the past decade due to its growing use in treating opiate dependency.

As the increased availability of narcotic drugs raises the risk of their being diverted and abused, the Board requests Governments to closely monitor trends in the consumption of narcotic drugs and to adopt measures to counter such threats.

Established by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the INCB is the only global body with a mandate to monitor the licit manufacture and consumption of narcotic drugs around the world. Based on its activities, the Board publishes an annual report which it submits to the UN Economic and Social Council through the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.