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Brussels, 27 September 2012
Tighter control of methamphetamine and heroin precursors – Frequently Asked Questions
What are drug precursors?
Drug precursors are chemicals that are primarily used for the legitimate production of a wide range of products, like pharmaceuticals, perfumes, plastics, cosmetics etc. However, they can also be misused for the production of illicit drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine.
What are the EU rules that govern drug precursors?
The EU legislation on drug precursors is based on the 1988 United Nations Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and a set of three EU Regulations which were put in place in 2005 to monitor trade in drug precursors both within the EU and between the EU and the rest of the world.
The EU legislation contains a list of 23 drug precursors that can be subject to customs controls at EU borders.
In the Single Market producers and traders are obliged to notify suspicious transactions of drug precursors to Member States' control authorities.
It is the operators' responsibility to prevent theft, to check the lawfulness of their customers, to detect any suspicious orders from clients and then to notify those suspicious transactions to national competent authorities for follow-up.
The authorities verify suspicious orders and the potential client. This can lead to a simple stopping of the delivery of the particular order and/or the identification and dismantlement of criminal networks.
National authorities ensure through administrative procedures (granting of licences, registrations, import and export authorisations) and on-site inspections that legitimate companies dealing with drug precursors properly ensure their responsibility to notify suspicious transactions and keep records of their legal transactions.
The legislation aims to strike a balance between the necessary control to prevent diversion of drug precursors and allowing their legitimate trade without creating unnecessary administrative burdens.
Why is the Commission proposing new rules?
A 2010 implementation report on the current system concluded that overall, the EU drug precursor legislation works well, but that certain weaknesses should be addressed to increase the barriers for illegal diversion of ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine contained in medicinal products, as well as diversion of acetic anhydride.
The new rules will reinforce the controls on these specific drug precursors, both within the Single Market and at the EU borders through customs.
What will change with the new proposals?
In the first proposal, customs authorities would alert third countries in advance if medicinal products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are exported to them via the pre-export notification online system (PEN). Customs authorities would also be allowed to seize shipments of medicinal products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine when there is reasonable suspicion that they are destined for illegal purposes. For the time being, most customs authorities can only seize ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as raw substances.
In the second proposal, it is foreseen that for Acetic Anhydride (AA) the registration requirements are extended to companies buying AA for their own uses or processes (i.e. end users in industrial production). Until now only EU companies producing or trading AA have to register with their national authorities. Traffickers were using this weakness in the EU legislation to obtain AA, by pretending to be legitimate end users who were not subject to controls and registration by national authorities.
How big is the legal and illegal drug precursor market?
The global annual legitimate trade of AA is over 2 million tonnes. 25% of the global production capacity is in the EU, US production capacity is around 50% and the rest of the world around 25% with China's capacity growing strongly. The AA produced in the EU is mainly consumed within the EU for legitimate industrial uses. It is estimated that 0.02% of AA global legal trade (between 380 and 570 tonnes of AA) is diverted to heroin production in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is considered the centre of global heroin manufacture, with 300-500 illicit laboratories in operation for approximately 380 tonnes of heroin per year.
In 2010 the EU imported just over 3 tonnes of ephedrine preparations while the global figure was close to 4 tonnes. The EU accounts for about 78% of the global imports of ephedrine preparations. As regards the exports of ephedrine preparations in 2010, the EU exported almost 2.5 tonnes which accounts for about 43% of the global exports reported. In 2010, EU imports and exports of pseudoephedrine preparations amounted to about 2% of the global imports and exports reported.
What is the EU drugs strategy?
The EU Drugs Strategy 2005-2012 concentrates on reducing demand and supply; international cooperation; research, information and evaluation. The strategy aims to attain a high level of health protection and well-being by complementing Member States’ action in preventing and reducing drug use and drug dependence. It also aims to ensure a high level of security for the general public by taking action against drug production and cross-border trafficking in drugs and the diversion of chemical precursors used in drug production. This is done by ensuring that EU coordination mechanisms complement national, regional and international measures.
What is the international framework for control of drug precursors?
The 1988 United Nations Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances contains specific measures to prevent diversion of drug precursors for use in the illicit production of drugs. 185 countries have signed up to this Convention, including all major chemical producing countries, all EU Member States and the European Union. The EU Drug Precursors regulatory framework implements within the EU the obligations prescribed by the 1988 UN Convention.
For more details on drug precursors: