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Central/Eastern Europe: Drug Abuse And AIDS Cases Increasing

By Carolyn Tang

Warsaw, 4 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The level of drug abuse in Central and Eastern Europe is rapidly growing, says the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

In its annual report issued today, the INCB said the number of heroin abuse cases is increasing rapidly in Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. Intravenous drug use in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics is on the rise, increasing the number of AIDS cases in the region.

The report says that heroin abuse in Central and Eastern Europe is still lower than in Western Europe. It notes that while large amounts of heroin and cocaine continue to be smuggled into Western Europe, abuse of such substances in the region has declined.

But the INCB says there is a "clear upward trend" in the abuse of synthetic drugs manufactured in Europe's clandestine laboratories, which supply amphetamines and "Ecstasy" pills to illegal drug markets on the continent and abroad. The board also says growing marijuana is also becoming more common in Europe.

The INCB reports a five-fold increase in global seizures of opiates and a 10-fold jump in cocaine seizures since 1980. It says countries should focus the most attention on big-time drug dealers instead of the users or pushers in order to stop the flow of drugs from the source.

"The Board suggests that countries set a higher priority on apprehending and punishing high-level criminals. For persons convicted of possessing small amounts of illicit drugs, alternatives to prison sentences should be considered," says the report.

The report says drug traffic in Europe is possible because of the activity of organized criminal groups and the removal of customs barriers between Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). According to the report, traffickers can "transport illicit shipments from the Golden Crescent through Central Asia, the Russian Federation and Belarus without being checked."

The INCB warns that Poland is quickly becoming a major drug trafficking center in Europe. Just last week, German officials seized 26 kilograms of heroin at the Polish border. The drug is estimated to have a street value of around $2.6 million and was the second largest drug seizure ever made at this border.

Last year the commander of border troops along Poland's eastern border, Jaroslaw Zukowicz, told RFE/RL that drug smugglers used all entries to Poland, including sea ports, airports and all road border crossings. This situation appears to have become much worse since then.

The INCB is a 13-member group of experts set up by the United Nations but independent of UN control. It bases most of its data on studies done in individual countries.