SUNDAY 18 MAY 1997 

UN drug office lauds Indian industry moves on stimulents
R Senthilnathan (IANS)

SENIOR UN drug officials have praised Indian industry for taking a lead in controlling substances used to make synthetic drugs like `Ecstasy', which are considered to be the menace of the coming millennium.

Officials at the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said companies in India which make precursors, the initial ingredient used to manufacture 22 kinds of stimulant drugs, have voluntarily agreed on a code of conduct under which they report sales to drug control authorities.

``If a country like India can do it, why can't others do it?'' says Mr Akira Fujino, head of the precursor control unit of the INCB.

The board comprises 13 internationally known experts in narcotics who monitor the implementation of different UN drug conventions.

Mr Fujino said the code of conduct was established without any pressure and now Indian authorities were in touch with the INCB almost on a daily basis with information on sales and shipment of precursors, often asking for advice.

The INCB and the UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) have, in recent times, expressed alarm over what they claim is a rapid increase in the abuse of stimulant drugs like Ecstasy. The INCB has reported a three-fold increase in the number of countries with rising abuse of stimulants over the past ten years and a ten-fold increase in seizures between 1978 and 1994.

Synthetic drugs have a stimulating effect on the Central nervous system. There are hundreds of such drugs, but the most commonly known, besides Ecstasy, are amphetamines and `Ice' or `Shabu', which is one of the most widely abused drugs in the Far East.

Amphetamines were first manufactured in the latter part of the 19th century and were used by soldiers during the World Wars to increase their endurance under tough conditions. In recent years, however, these drugs and their variations have come to be abused by youths, particularly in discos, officials say.

INCB president Hamid Ghodse said that during his recent visit to China he was informed of young people paying up to $90 in discos for a single tablet of amphetamine.

UN officials say one major difference between conventional drugs like cannabis, cocaine and heroin on the one hand and stimulants on the other is that the latter are easy to make and therefore can be manufactured anywhere.

A number of publications and sites on the Internet give details of stimulant manufacturing, says Mr Fujino. The places where conventional drugs are grown and processed, in contrast, are known to authorities, he added.

Another problem for the authorities is that the effect of these drugs on the human brain have not yet been studied widely. Even though amphetamines could be made in so-called kitchen laboratories, Mr Ghodse and other officials say most of these drugs went from Europe to other parts of the world. The Netherlands and Poland are major stimulant producers.

The battle to control stimulant drugs is a long one and UN officials concede illicit producers have an advantage because improvising is easy. Amphetamines and Ecstasy are now controlled under international drug conventions.

But producers simply make a slight change in their chemical structure, which puts the new product out of the control regime - a practice that has earned them the name `designer drugs'. It then takes a number of years for experts to put the new drug under control.

One way to exercise some kind of control over stimulant drugs is to keep a check on precursors. Mr Fujino said there are not many countries where these precursors are produced. One particular precursor, ephedrine, is produced in five countries - India, China, the Czech Republic, Germany and Japan.

China, where the chemical industry is state-owned, has decided to follow India's path of monitoring precursor movements. Through such practices, says Mr Ghodse, drug authorities are for the first time able to monitor movement of precursors.-IANS

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