Thursday November 30, 2023

How to implement a drug-control policy

July 27, 2019

It has been almost two decades since Pakistan has been boasting of making itself poppy-free. However, the country becoming drug-free remains an elusive dream.

Official statistics show a constant increase in drug use. Estimates from 2013 show 6.7 million drug users in the country. These are six-year-old statistics that yet need to be updated by regular periodic surveys.

Drug control has to be two-pronged with equal emphasis on supply reduction – limiting the smuggling, trafficking and distribution of narcotics – and demand reduction, which is reducing the demand of illicit drugs through preventive education, treatment, and rehabilitation as well as harm reduction programmes.

While demand reduction is people-centric, supply management extends benefits to other countries too. However, ironically, there is a policy bias in favour of supply reduction at the cost of demand reduction. The 2010-14 drug control master plan has allocated Rs6.8 billion to the supply-side while provision for the demand-side was a meagre Rs1.6 billion. Seventy-five percent of these allocations were to be mobilized from foreign donors. But if these allocations were realized and if the targets set in the master plan were achieved do they remain a secret?

The situation seems to be quite bad as last year the media reported that only around 300 drug addicts could be given limited treatment facilities at one time in the country. Public-sector hospitals provide detoxification services to drug addicts only. And there exist no treatment and rehabilitation services.

The Anti-Narcotics Force though has set up three model addiction treatment and rehabilitation Centres in Islamabad, Quetta, and Karachi but they too can cater to the needs of only 150 drug addicts.

In 2019, after a gap of five years, Pakistan has a new National Anti-Narcotics Policy. On demand reduction, there are not much changes from the 2010 plan – that is, to create awareness through civil society, media, and educational institutions. The new thing is the emphasis on the need to conduct a drug use survey every three years. There is an urgent need to give vibrancy to demand reduction in the policy by setting a baseline and tangible targets with a specific time frame and monetary allocations.

Pakistan has been a transit country to the drugs cultivated in Afghanistan. The new official prescription to save Pakistanis from drugs seems to be eradicating poppy cultivation from Afghanistan and other adjoining states.

During a recent visit of Adviser to Afghan President for National Security Council Sarwar Ahmedzai, Minister of State for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Shehryar Khan Afridi said that Pakistan had been declared a poppy-free country in 2001, but around 85 percent of the world’s poppy was produced in Afghanistan, and collective efforts were needed to eradicate its cultivation there.

“We, along with global partners, including UN agencies, should provide the Afghan people an alternative means of livelihood so that they could ditch poppy plantation and grow other crops,” Mr Afridi said.

The minister was referring to Pakistan becoming poppy-free at the start of this century with a massive reduction in its cultivation from 9,400 hectares in 1992 to some 243 hectares in 2000-01.

This success story was achieved by implementing a crop substitution programme with the support of the international community, mainly the US government.

The Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been poppy-free since 1999 with full enforcement of a ban on poppy cultivation – the drug control objective of the $38 million Dir District Development Project, implemented in two phases over 16 years beginning in 1985.

The idea of this project was extracted from a USAID study ‘Cause, Effect & Remedies of Poppy Cultivation in Swabi-Gadoon Area’, which is available in the Library of Congress, USA.

As part of the plan, the most significant Gadoon Amazai industrial estate was established in Swabi in 1988. The government extended incentives such as tax exemption, low-interest rates, and exemption of duties on imported machinery and raw material.

As a result, 325 industrial units were established in the area with the investment of Rs53.836 billion, providing job opportunities to over 14,843 people. However, a 2015 study of the Institute of Management Sciences, Peshwar, said that in 1992, the incentives to the Gadoon Amazai Industrial Estate were withdrawn, which led to the closing of 133 units. At present, the industrial estate is in deep crisis.

Additionally, the illicit opium-growing areas received assistance in constructing transport and social welfare infrastructures, irrigation, and land levelling to increase alternative crop productivity. Farmers were advised that crops would be eradicated, and non-compliance could lead to their prosecution. There was ‘bombardment’ of resistant villages with heavy artillery, as well as aerial spraying of hard to reach crops with herbicides. If farmers re-cultivated opium after the initial eradication, they were prosecuted.

Pakistan is a party to the three UN drug control conventions. In 1999, it ratified the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol. This convention calls for a prohibition of poppy cultivation as a most suitable measure for protecting public health and welfare and preventing the diversion of drugs into illicit traffic.

Ratified in 1977, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971 establishes an international control system for psychotropic substances. It responded to the diversification and expansion of the spectrum of drugs of abuse and introduced controls over a number of synthetic drugs according to their abuse potential, on the one hand, and their therapeutic value on the other.

The Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, which was ratified in 1991, provides for comprehensive measures against drug trafficking, including provisions against money laundering and the diversion of precursor chemicals. It provides for international cooperation through, for example, extradition of drug traffickers-controlled deliveries and transfer of proceedings.

The national legal and legislative processes initiated to regulate and then eradicate poppy cultivation dates back to the Opium Act of 1857 that was introduced to regulate the cultivation of the poppy and the manufacturing of opium followed by the Opium Act, 1878.

The Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930, was also introduced to take further measures to suppress contraband traffic and abuse of dangerous drugs. Pakistan adopted these legislations in 1947 at the time of its independence.

The Control of Narcotic Substances Act, 1997 imposed a ban on the cultivation of narcotic plants and possession of narcotic drugs as well as import and export of narcotic drugs. This act also imposed a ban on trafficking or financing the trafficking of narcotic drugs. Moreover, it imposed a ban on owning, operating premises or machinery for the manufacture of narcotic drugs as well as the acquisition and possession of assets derived from narcotic offenses. There was also prohibition on aiding, abetment or association in narcotic offences.

All this shows that the new policy has all the legal ingredients, except the highest federal and provincial political will for implementation. Political will can be structured into drug control by setting up the National Anti-Narcotics Council (NANC) under the chairmanship of the prime minister with all chief ministers and federal and provincial ministers of interior, and inter-provincial coordination.

The NANC, which is proposed by both the 2010 and 2019 policies, has yet to be set up, will pave the way for proactive demand-reduction activities in the country.