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OAS Secretary General Presented Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas to ECLAC

  July 1, 2013

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today presented, at the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, produced by the hemispheric institution under his leadership.

The Secretary General focused his presentation to the United Nations body on the growth of drug use in the Americas and the huge amounts of money generated by drug trafficking, two key elements in considering possible responses to the problem. He also recalled that the Report raises the possibility of decriminalizing drug use as a real alternative to be studied and considered, because if drug addiction is considered as a health problem, it is not consistent to consider addicts as suffering from an illness while at the same time punishing them.

The head of the hemispheric Organization was introduced at the event by the Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena, who praised the work of the OAS and appreciated the scope and depth of the study. The presentation of the Report was also discussed by Senator Jaime Orpis and Deputy Carlos Montes, both from the Chilean legislature, and Martin Hopenhayn, Director of the Social Development Division of ECLAC.

In his speech, the OAS Secretary General highlighted that to analyze the problem of drugs in the Americas it is necessary to keep in mind the data on consumption, which details the extent to which the problem has penetrated the societies of the Hemisphere; and the money involved, because the exorbitant profits generated by drug trafficking generate other problems like extreme violence utilized by criminal gangs or the growth of corruption.

The retail market for drugs in the Americas is estimated at 151 billion dollars annually, equivalent to approximately 47 percent of the world total. Of these, the retail market in North America alone accounts for approximately 44 percent of the global total, he said. However, the division along the value chain is very different. “In the Colombian jungle, it costs between US$585 and US$780 to produce a kilogram of cocaine paste, and that same kilo can be transformed into two kilos of cocaine valued at US$330,000 in North America. In other words, in the course of the illegal drug trade's chain of value, it can increase its value 500-fold." said the Secretary General.

Secretary General Insulza placed special emphasis on what he called "the second major axis of corruption, money laundering." He explained that this activity reaches, according to studies, as much as 62 percent of the total gross profits from cocaine trafficking, and now extends beyond the financial sector to reach "other economic agents, including insurance companies, stock and securities brokers, exchange bureaus, wire transfer companies, casinos, mineral and precious stone traders and concessionaires, real estate dealers, and independent professionals."

In terms of consumption, the OAS leader recalled that the figures in the Americas are "troubling, and by themselves demand a reaction of the governments of the region." The Western Hemisphere is home to some 45 percent of the cocaine users in the world, about half of those who use heroin and opiates and a quarter of those who smoke marijuana; the consumption of cocaine paste, of cocaine, crack, inhalants, amphetamines and misuse of legal drugs have all increased. "Our Hemisphere's use of drugs is one of the highest in the world and triggers a wide range of effects that are harmful to health in both the short and the long run. And the dependency to which all drug users are exposed, regardless of whether those drugs are legal or illicit, destroys not only the lives of those who are dependent on them, but also those of their families and of those who surround them," he added.

At this point, the Secretary General referred to decriminalization as a possibility that should be very seriously considered by the member countries. "It is clearly contradictory to say one wishes to treat drug addicts as people suffering from an illness and at the same time punish them for drug use. That does not mean that that sick person should not be treated in order to get rid of his or her dependency; nor does it preclude interning that person in a health establishment to prevent risk to her or his health or the security of others. However, we do not believe that sending seriously drug-dependent people to prison constitutes appropriate treatment. What's more, we think it might exacerbate their condition and even render it irredeemable."

The Report was prepared by the hemispheric organization pursuant to a mandate from the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, last year, The Report, which the Secretary General delivered on Friday, May 17, 2013, to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, consists of two parts: the Analytical Report, explaining the reasons that have caused concern in society about drug consumption and which have led to attempts to control the effects of drugs on human health; and the Scenarios Report, an examination of the paths that the phenomenon could take in the hemisphere in the coming years.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-261/13