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Cocaine is Harmful? UN WHO-UNICRI Cocaine Study

Cocaine is Harmful? UN WHO-UNICRI Cocaine Study

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Published by James Dwyer
This is the largest ever study of cocaine use around the globe carried out in the early 90's by the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) and funded by the UN Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), but under pressure from the US its publication was suppressed when it became clear the report's findings were in direct conflict with the myths, stereotypes and propaganda that prop up the war on drugs (read the complete leaked report here).

In March 1995 WHO/UNICRI released a briefing kit summarising the key conclusions, as a curtain raiser to the report's imminent publication.

* "Health problem; from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use.
* Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users." (pg. 1)

the coca plant
In a classic example of what happens when public health pragmatism collides with criminal justice dogma, just two months later, at the 48th World Health Assembly, the US representative to the WHO threatened to withdraw US funding for WHO research projects unless they 'would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study'. He said;

"The United States Government had been surprised to note that the package seemed to make a case for the positive uses of cocaine, claiming that use of the coca leaf did not lead to noticeable damage to mental or physical health, that the positive health effects of coca leaf chewing might be transferable from traditional settings to other countries and cultures, and that coca production provided financial benefits to peasants...

"... it [the US] took the view that the study on cocaine, evidence of WHO's support for harm-reduction programmes and previous WHO association with organizations that supported the legalization of drugs, indicated that its programme on substance abuse was heading in the wrong direction. The press package undermined the efforts of the international community to stamp out the illegal cultivation and production of coca, inter alia through international conventions.

"The United States Government considered that, if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed. In view of the gravity of the matter, he asked the Director-General for an assurance that WHO would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study and that, in substance abuse activities, an approach would not be adopted that could be used to justify the continued production of coca."


It's easy to see why the US would be so opposed to the study being published as it not only challenges a number of myths and stereotypes about cocaine use, but it is highly critical of a number of US-backed policies. The report specifically highlights the criticism that supply reduction and enforcement policies are not working and that alternatives needs to be explored;

"The largest future issue is whether international organisations, such as WHO and the United Nations Drug Control Programme, and national governments will continue to focus on supply reduction approaches such as crop destruction and substitution and law enforcement efforts in the face of mounting criticism and cynicism about the effectiveness of these approaches. Countries such as Australia, Bolivia, Canada and Colombia are now interested in examining a range of options to legalize and decriminalize the personal use and possession of cocaine and other related products. There needs to be more assessment of the adverse effects of current policies and strategies and development of innovative approaches." (pg. 30)

"The studies identified strict limitations to drug control policies which rely almost exclusively on repressive measures.
This is the largest ever study of cocaine use around the globe carried out in the early 90's by the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) and funded by the UN Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), but under pressure from the US its publication was suppressed when it became clear the report's findings were in direct conflict with the myths, stereotypes and propaganda that prop up the war on drugs (read the complete leaked report here).

In March 1995 WHO/UNICRI released a briefing kit summarising the key conclusions, as a curtain raiser to the report's imminent publication.

* "Health problem; from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use.
* Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users." (pg. 1)

the coca plant
In a classic example of what happens when public health pragmatism collides with criminal justice dogma, just two months later, at the 48th World Health Assembly, the US representative to the WHO threatened to withdraw US funding for WHO research projects unless they 'would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study'. He said;

"The United States Government had been surprised to note that the package seemed to make a case for the positive uses of cocaine, claiming that use of the coca leaf did not lead to noticeable damage to mental or physical health, that the positive health effects of coca leaf chewing might be transferable from traditional settings to other countries and cultures, and that coca production provided financial benefits to peasants...

"... it [the US] took the view that the study on cocaine, evidence of WHO's support for harm-reduction programmes and previous WHO association with organizations that supported the legalization of drugs, indicated that its programme on substance abuse was heading in the wrong direction. The press package undermined the efforts of the international community to stamp out the illegal cultivation and production of coca, inter alia through international conventions.

"The United States Government considered that, if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed. In view of the gravity of the matter, he asked the Director-General for an assurance that WHO would dissociate itself from the conclusions of the study and that, in substance abuse activities, an approach would not be adopted that could be used to justify the continued production of coca."


It's easy to see why the US would be so opposed to the study being published as it not only challenges a number of myths and stereotypes about cocaine use, but it is highly critical of a number of US-backed policies. The report specifically highlights the criticism that supply reduction and enforcement policies are not working and that alternatives needs to be explored;

"The largest future issue is whether international organisations, such as WHO and the United Nations Drug Control Programme, and national governments will continue to focus on supply reduction approaches such as crop destruction and substitution and law enforcement efforts in the face of mounting criticism and cynicism about the effectiveness of these approaches. Countries such as Australia, Bolivia, Canada and Colombia are now interested in examining a range of options to legalize and decriminalize the personal use and possession of cocaine and other related products. There needs to be more assessment of the adverse effects of current policies and strategies and development of innovative approaches." (pg. 30)

"The studies identified strict limitations to drug control policies which rely almost exclusively on repressive measures.

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Published by: James Dwyer on Jun 14, 2009
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05/11/2014

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This information package presents the results of an international study oncocaine executed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and funded bythe United Nations lnterregional Crime and Justice Research Institute(UNICRI).The material included does not represent the official views of WHO orUNICRI. Conclusions of the study require careful interpretation,particularly when making comparisons between different substances of their harmful health consequences. In no way should it be read that WHOor UNICRI endorse the use of any psychoactive substance. It is recognizedthat there are risks associated with the use of all such substances.
 
 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to express our thanks to the United Nations Interregional Crime and JusticeResearch Institute (UNICRI) and to the generous contribution of the Italian Ministry of Interior.The following researchers participated at the WHO/UNICRI Cocaine Project:
First Meeting of Project Advisers, Geneva, 24-28 August 1992
Dr Wilson Acuda. Zimbabwe Mr Anthony Henman, United KingdomProfessor Francesco Bruno. Italy Dr David C. Lewis. USADr Peter Cohen. The Netherlands Dr Michael MacAvoy. AustraliaDr Patricia Erickson. Canada Professor Michael Olatawura, NigeriaDr Erik Fromberg, The Netherlands Dr John Saunders, AustraliaDr Michael Gossop, United Kingdom Dra Elvia Velasquez de Pabon. ColombiaThe implementation and development of the WHO/UNICRI Cocaine Project was under the chargeof the following researchers:
 Advisory Committee
Ms Maria Elena Andreotti, UNICRI Dr David Lewis, Providence. USADr Mario Argandoña, WHO/PSA
1
 Dr Michael MacAvoy,Sydney,AustraliaDr Andrew Ball, WHO/PSA Dr Michael Olatawura, Ibadan, NigeriaProfessor Francesco Bruno, Rome, ltaly Dr Hernan Olivera, Cochabamba, Bolivia
 Research Coordinators
 For the Key Informant Study & Country Profile: For the Natural History Study:
Ms Julie Hando, Sydney, Australia Mr Aurelio Diaz, Barcelona, SpainMr Bruce Flaherty, Sydney, Australia Ms Mila Barruti, Barcelona, SpainDr Ruthbeth Finerman, Memphis, USA
For the Review on Current Knowledge on Cocaine:
Professor Francesco Bruno, Rome. Italy Dr Gianfranco Costanzo, Rome, ltalyDr Giancarlo Bascone, Rome, ltaly Dr Francesca Fasoli, Rome, ItalyDr Giuliano Bestiaco, Rome, Italy Dr Paola Medde, Rome, ltalyDr Iliana Bona, Rome, Italy Dr Paolo Di Pasquale, Rome, Italy
 Principal Site Investigators
Dr Wilson Acuda, Harare, Zimbabwe Dr Elson Lima, Rio de Janeiro. BrazilDr. Bruce Alexander,Vancouver, Canada Dr Michael MacAvoy, Sydney, AustraliaDr Al Sayed Al Kott, Cairo, Egypt Dr Vinicio Moreno, Quito, Ecuador Dr Bengt Andersson, Lund, Sweden Dr Solange A. Nappo, Sao Paulo. BrazilDr Bert Bieleman,Groningen,The Netherlands Dr Rafael Navarro, Lima, PeruDr Marcela Butron. Cochabamba, Bolivia Dr Michael Olatawura, Ibadan, Nigeria
1
WHO's Programme on Substance Abuse
 
Dr E.A. Carlini. Sao Paulo. Brazil Dr Hernan Olivera. Cochabamba. BoliviaDr Don Des Jarlais, New York, U.S.A. Dr Arturo Ortiz, Mexico DF, MexicoDr Galina A. Korchagina. St Petersburg, Russian Fed.Dr Craig Reinarman, San Francisco. U.S.A.Dr Ibrahim Latheef, Male, Maldives Dr Tony Toneatto, Toronto. CanadaDr Ho Young Lee. Seoul, Republic of Korea Dr Robert Trotter, Flagstaff, U.S.A.Dr David Lewis. Providence. USA Dr Kerstin Tunving
2
, Lund. Sweden
 PSA Secretariat Preparation of Brief Summaries
Mr Hans Emblad, Director, PSA Mr Dave Burrows, Sydney, AustraliaDr Mario Argandoña, Chief, TAC
3
 Dr Ruthbeth Finerman, Memphis. USADr Andrew Ball. Medical Officer, TAC Ms Aimee Gilliland, Memphis. USAMs Penny Ward, Secretary, TAC Ms Hanni Hudson. Memphis, USAMs Luz Bancale. Secretary, TAC Ms Cynthia Martin, Memphis. USAMr Scott Rutter, Memphis. USAThis work has only been possible with the collaboration of many cocaine users and keyinformants, whose contributions are very much appreciated.
2
 
Dr Tunving died in 1994 & her valuable contribution to the project will be remembered
 
3
 
The unit of Treatment & Care, in WHO's Programme on Substance Abuse
 

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