National Press Club

UN Drug Officer Urges Enforcement Against Kingpins

July 6, 2009 | By Peter Hickman |

"Go after the piranhas, not the minnows," the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said at a June 24 Newsmaker, where he and the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released the 2009 UN World Drug Report.

Antonio Maria Costa, who also is a UN under secretary general, was encouraging law enforcement agencies to focus on what he called "high-profile, high-volume and violent" drug traffickers as opposed to "petty offenders." Devoting time and manpower to the latter, he said, "is a waste of money for the police, and a waste of lives for those thrown in jail."

The 314-page report released by Costa and ONDCP head Gil Kerlikowske highlights the links between drugs and crime, and shows that opiates, cocaine and cannabis markets are flat or decreasing, and the use of synthetic drugs is "feared to be increasing in the developing world."

The report pays special attention to the impact of drug-related crime and what to do about it. Costa acknowledged that existing drug controls have generated a black market that uses violence and corruption. Still, he warned that legalizing drugs as a way of removing this threat, as been suggested, would be "an historic mistake." Illicit drugs, he said, "pose a danger to health. That's why drugs are, and must remain, controlled."

Kerlikowske said the report "demonstrates that drugs are a problem that touches every nation" and that each has the responsibility to address drug abuse within their own societies. The U.S., he said, "is committed to expanding demand reduction initiatives to ensure that all those struggling to overcome addition, especially in developing countries, have access to effective treatment programs." We know, he said, that "treatment works."

The report includes four main recommendations on how to improve drug control: universal access to drug treatment, improved public order to make communities less vulnerable to drugs and crime, enforcement of international agreements against organized crime and greater efficiency in law enforcement.