Drugs in the Global Village


            The Lao PDR is a significant producer of opium poppy although far smaller than its neighbour, Myanmar.  It is a landlocked country, sharing  borders with Myanmar and Thailand, the other two countries of the Golden Triangle opium belt, as well as with China, Vietnam and Cambodia.  About 80% of the country is mountainous and 47% is covered by forest. The Mekong river flows for 1,800 km along the borders of Laos with Myanmar and Thailand (EIU 1995; Laos 1993)
             The Lao PDR is a sparsely-populated,  multi-ethnic state with a population of 4.5 million that belong to 47 different ethnic groups.  These ethnic groups can be classified into three broad categories:  the Lowland Lao (Lao Loum, about 65% of the population); the Upland Lao (Lao Theung, about 25% of the population); and the Highland Lao (Lao Soung, about 10% of the population), which include the Hmong, Yao, Akha and Musser  (Laos 1993).  The Lao Loum engage in irrigated rice farming, the Lao Theung produce opium aften as hired labourers and the Lao Soung they subsist on upland rice cultivation and are the main opium producers to complement their megre income.

            The average population density (an estimated 18.2 persons per square kilometre), is among the lowest in Asia.  The majority of the population lives in rural areas in poor sanitary conditions and can only afford a low nutrition diet: UNDP's estimate of infant mortality is 97 per 1,000 live births and of life expectancy at birth only 50 years. The quality of life is even lower in the remote opium-producing areas in northern Laos.  In terms of quality of life (education level, state of health and income level), the Lao Soung, the group that produces the most opium, appears to be the most disadvantaged group in Laos (EIU 1994).

            The economy of the Lao PDR is predominantly agrarian.  Latest available data indicate that agriculture accounted for more than 57% of the GDP and employed 90% of the workforce.  Drug control efforts in the Lao PDR are hampered by a number of  structural problems such as inadequate transportation and communications, a shortage of domestic funds and of skilled labour.  Moreover, geography poses an additional constraint -being landlocked, the Lao PDR lacks easy access to world markets for essential goods and services which might help push the country towards economic development (EIU 1995).

            The country-wide average annual GDP growth rate was about 5.5% in the 1990s, but is much less in the opium poppy growing areas.  While economic performance has been satisfactory at the macro level, in particular, the open market policies introduced since 1986 have resulted in visible improvement of the general economic condition of the Lao PDR, the benefits of development are concentrated in Vientiane and a few other cities and has not tickled down to the rest of the country (EIU 1995).   
            Neighbouring Thailand is the main trading partner of the Lao PDR, accounting for almost 40%  of  the exports and  over 55% of the imports in 1992.   Drug traffickers often take advantage of the large volume of legitimate trade with Thailand to smuggle their drugs along with the commercial goods.  Japan and China are also important trading partners.  Outside the region, France, the U. S. and the Netherlands accounted for 6-12% of international trade in 1992 (EIU 1995). 
            Although it is not a party to the 1971 and 1988 U.N. Drug Conventions, the the Lao PDR has actively pursued regional cooperation in counter narcotics efforts.  It  has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the People's Republic of China, the Kingdom of Thailand,  Myanmar and UNDCP in 1993 at the special meeting on narcotic drugs during the 48th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.  In May 1995, the first regional meeting at the ministerial level took place in Beijing, under the auspices of UNDCP.  On that occasion Cambodia and Viet Nam joined the sub-regional cooperation agreement by signing the MOU. This agreement will serve as a framework of cooperation for these key producer and transit countries and UNDCP on narcotics control (UNDCP 1995). 


Estimated population:                                    4.5 million (U.N. 1994,II:7)
Life expectancy at birth:                                 51.0 years (1992)
Annual population growth rate:                     2.8 (1991-2000)
Urban population:                                          23% (U.N. 1994,II:7)
Real GDP per capita:                         US$1,760 (at 1992 Purchasing Power Parity)
Budget deficit(% of GDP):                             not available
Adult literacy rate:                                          53.5% (1992)
Gross enrolment ratio(% age 6-23 years):     48% (1992)                
Infant mortality rate(per 1000 live births):    97(1992)                     
Population with access to:                 
            Health Services:                                  67% (1985-93)
            Safe water:                                          36%(1992)
            Daily newspapers(per 100 people):    not available
            Televisions(per 100 peple):                 1 (1992)          
Human development index:                0.420 (1992) ranked 138 out of 174 countries

                                                                 Extent of Illicit Drug Supply


            Opium poppy is grown in 10 provinces of northern Laos, in the provinces of Houaphan, Loung Prabang, Xieng Khouang, Phongsali, Bokeo, Bolikhamsay, Loung Namtha, Oudomsay, Sayabouri and Vientiane.  The first five provinces are the largest producers.  A recent UNDCP survey indicates that opium poppy is grown  in a reported 58 out of 69 districts, approximately 85% of the districts in northern Laos.  In those districts, an estimated 60,000 households in 2,200 villages (32%) are involved in opium production.  It should be mentioned in this context that cultivation of opium poppy is not a punishable crime in the Lao PDR (Laos 1993b).

            Opium poppy is traditionally grown by the Lao Soung, originally for medicinal and cerimonial purposes. During the colonial administration, opium was increasingly cultivated as a cash crop, which led to a dependence of farmers on the sale of an illicit crop to an international market largely outside their control (Laos 1993b).  

            Opium poppy is grown mostly in small plots, rarely exceeding one hectare.  Cultivation estimates for the 1994 opium poppy crop show a marked decrease from previous years.  Latest available estimates indicate that opium production dropped from about 180 tons in 1993 to only 85 tons in 1994 ( Please refer to Table 1 below).  This reduction was a result of the weather conditions which reduced yield dramatically even though overall a larger number of farmers may have planted opium poppy as a cash supplement.

                Table 1: Opium Poppy Cultivation Estimates, 1991-1994 


Net opium cultivation

Potential opium yield (tons)

Potential heroin production

Average poppy yield per hectare (kilograms)









not available











not available

Source: Illicit Drug Trafficking: Report of the Secretariat, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 38th session, Vienna, 14-23 March 1995.
*UNDCP Country Office, Laos.

            Cannabis plant cultivation takes place mainly in Vientiane, Bolikhamxay, Saravanh, Champasaik and Savannakhet provinces.  Nearly all of the total annual harvest is exported (either as raw material or after conversion)  No estimates are currently available of the annual illicit cannabis cultivation (U.N. 1994). Despite eradication activities undertaken by the government, production still continues on a large-scale (Laos 1993b).



             No information is available on whether the opium produced in Laos is refined into heroin within the country.  No illicit manufacture was reported by the Government of Laos in 1993 and 1994. However, assuming a total opium production capacity of 85 tons (1994) and a reported annual internal consumption of 80 tons, then in theory, 5 tons of raw opium was available in 1994 for refining into heroin (INCSR 1995).

            Clandestine heroin laboratories were discovered near the Myanmar border, in Oudomsay in 1988 and Bokeo in 1990, but no laboratories have been detected since (UNDCP 1994).

            Little information is available on the illicit manufacture of psychotropic substances in Laos.  No diversion of essential chemicals or precursors was reported in 1994.  In an attempt to tighten control over the possible diversion of precursors and essential chemicals, the Department of Pharmacy of the Ministry of Health prohibited the import of precursors destined for immediate re-export in 1993 (UNDCP 1994).

                                                     Patterns and Trends in Illicit Drug Supply


            Although much progress has been made in the last couple of years, the ability of the Lao PDR to control the flow of drugs within the country as well as across its porous borders is hampered by lack of trained officials and resources.  The lengthy borders with Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Cambodia are difficult to control; checkpoints exist only along principal land routes and river crossings, which leaves a wide area along the remote border areas with little or no oversight (UNDCP 1995).

            Lao Government sources estimate that 35% of the total traffic in opium in Laos is produced domestically (U.N. Part III, 1994).  Annual average domestic consumption of opium is widely held to be around 80 tons.  In theory, surplus production above 80 tons of opium is then available for export, mostly to  Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand, Vietnam and China.  Trafficking in opium was reported to have slightly decreased in 1994 due to the poor harvest (U.N. Part III,1994; Laos 1993b).
            The trafficking of opium within the country is done on a small-scale, mostly by  producers or petty traders at the local level.  Opium is also used at the village level as a means of payment for farm labour and to barter for food and essential commodities to small traders (Laos 1993b).     

            International opium and heroin trafficking is reported to be done mostly by traders at the national and international levels.  Transactions are usually negotiated in cash, in the local currency (Laos 1993b).             

             The main trafficking routes are overland across the Laos/Thai border to Bangkok, which is the main transit and distribution centre for illicit drug trafficking in the sub-region.  In particular, Bokeo and Udomsay provinces on the Thai border serve as entrance or exit transit areas in northwest Laos. Thailand remains the preferred destination for the illicit trafficking of opium because the price in Thailand is higher than in Viet Nam, China or Cambodia.  Moreover, the middleman system is better established in Thailand than in the neighbouring countries.  A sizable amount of opium produced in Xieng Khuay and Houapanh provinces is also reported to be smuggled to Viet Nam (Laos 1993a and 1993b; UNDCP 1995; U.N. Part III, various years).
            There are indications that the patterns of international heroin trafficking have become increasingly diffuse in recent years.  Government sources report that the morphine and heroin trafficked through Laos originates from Thailand and Myanmar; and 100% of the total traffic in these drugs is destined for other countries (Vietnam, China and European countries) with Laos serving only as a transit point.  A strong increase in illicit traffic in morphine and heroin was reported in 1994.  Stricter controls at Thai airports were the main reasons given for the increase (U.N. Part III, 1994). 

            Heroin is  reportedly trafficked from Laos or transiting through Laos from Myanmar to China, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Cambodia.  These routes are mostly overland, although river ways are increasingly being used to transport the heroin into and through Laos.  Some drugs appear to move north using overland routes through Luang Namtha to China (Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong provinces).  There is no estimate of the extent of traffic towards Vietnam, but officials of both countries believe that it is occurring (U.N. part III, 1994; Laos 1993a and 1993b; UNDCP 1995).  Laos is increasingly being used as a transit point for heroin from Myanmar destined for the United States and to some extent, Western Europe.  The recent arrests of Nigerian heroin couriers at Vientiane International Airport are a strong indication of the use of Laos by traffickers ( U.N. Part III, 1994; INCSR 1995).

            One of the main reasons for this diversification of international trafficking routes was the transition to a more market-oriented economy which greatly increased commercial activities between provinces and across borders.  This proliferation of trade provided drug traffickers with greater opportunities to transport narcotics across the borders under the cover of legal commercial activities (Laos 1993b).

            Available data indicate that profit margins for opium trafficking within Laos are small.  For instance, according to statements of traffickers arrested in 1992, their share for transporting opium from Xieng Khouang to Vientiane was approximately US$ 4 per kg.  In another case, the profit margin for opium trafficking from Xaysomboun (special region) in the north-east to Vientiane was US$ 10 per kg, but involved three middlemen who shared this profit (Laos 1993b).

            The wholesale price of morphine at 80% purity was reported to be US$2,000-3,000 per kilogram; and the wholesale price of heroin at 100% purity was US$4,000-5,000 per kilogram.  The prices of both drugs are reported to have increased slightly from their 1993 levels (U.N. Part III 1994).
            Cannabis trafficking usually takes place in Vientiane and the southern provinces.  The trend in illicit traffic in cannabis was reported to be stable in 1994.  According to intelligence reports, production is largely undertaken on contract for Thai nationals who smuggle the drug  to Thailand and other destinations (U.N. Part III 1994).  Recent years have seen increased involvement of Thai criminal organizations in cannabis trafficking in Laos.  These organizations advance the funds and equipment to produce and pack cannabis in Laos and transport the drug, mainly across the Mekong river to Thailand (Lao 1993a).

            The average price per kilogram paid to farmers for purchase of raw cannabis was 300-500 baht in 1994.  The trafficking price of herbal cannabis was estimated at 500-1000 baht per kilogram in 1994, which was reported to be stable (U.N. Part III, 1994).



            It is difficult to identify trends in drug trafficking from the uneven pattern of seizure statistics in Laos.  Large  annual seizures of opium, despite the fall in opium production in recent years seem to indicate large-scale opium trafficking most probably from Myanmar, passing through Laos.  Heroin seizures rose in 1994 compared to the early 1990s, which could be due to increased law enforcement or could equally reflect the increased use of Laos as a transit country to transport heroin from Myanmar to other points.  Most of the heroin seizures took place at Vientiane’s Wattay airport on couriers traveling to North America and Europe. The large seizures of cannabis indicate large-scale domestic production of the drug (see Table 2 on Seizures below).

Table 2: Drugs Seized, 1991-1994(kilograms)

Drug Type




















*herbs and plants

Source: UNDCP, Annual Reports Questionnaire, various years; Country Report by Lao PDR, Honlea Asia and the Pacific, 14-18 November 1994.
                                                       Arrests, Convictions and Imprisonments

            Although opium poppy cultivation is not illegal, drug trafficking is a punisable offence.

            Data provided by the Government of Laos indicate that the majority of persons convicted for trafficking in drugs tend to be male, unemployed, aged 30 and over, and that they are convicted mainly for trafficking in opium and heroin.  In 1994, out of a total of 20 people convicted for drug trafficking, 80% (16 persons) were male aged 30 and above and 65% (13 persons) were unemployed.  In 1993, out of a total of 33 persons convicted for drug trafficking, 90% (33 persons) were male, all of them were unemployed aged 33 and above (U.N. Part III, various years).



*          As international trade and transportation links improve, it is likely that Laos will increasingly be used as a transit country to smuggle heroin from Myanmar to other destinations, including Europe and North America.  Lack of strict controls and staffing shortages at the Wattay International Airport will continue to make it attractive to drug traffickers to bypass stricter control at airports in Thailand.  Trafficking routes that passes through sparsely populated, inaccessible jungle areas to reach neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and China, present a huge challenge for law enforcement officials to control (U.N. Part III, 1994).

*          In particular, it seems likely that Laos is prone to use by Nigerian trafficking organizations which are always looking for new routes to minimize chances of detection (U.N. Part III, 1994).

*          In spite of increased law enforcement efforts, opium production in Laos will probably continue at relatively stable levels.  The fall in opium poppy cultivation in the last two years was due more to poor harvest than any marked improvement in law enforcement methods.  Cultivation locations in remote mountainous areas make it difficult for law enforcement officials to detect and destroy the crop (U.N. Part III, 1994).


                                        EXTENT, PATTERNS AND TREND IN DRUG ABUSE

                                                                      Extent of Drug Abuse

            Laos reports that it has no registry and no surveys or cost and consequences drug related studies have been undertaken in 1994 (p.4). Other drug related qualitative and attitude studies were undertaken.The development of a drug information system is constrained by lack of resources and assistance is needed to develop it (p. 5) (U.N. 1994,II). Overall, the item response rate in the 1994 U.N. part II is low and estimates provided in it appear to be inconsistent with available research. Most of the information available is based on a 1992/1993 survey among 80 opium dependent people in the Northern provinces, mostly older respondents  (p.47) (Laos 1993a).

               Opium consumption for medical and social purposes has been well established over a long period of time (p.6). While heroin dependence has not been identified as a problem (p.5), abuse of heroin has been reported in the cities (p.10) and opium dependence has been widespread in the rural areas of Northern Laos (p.5) (Laos 1993a). Of the estimated population of 4.5 million (U.N. 1994,II:7), about 2 millions live in the North,  where an estimated 42,000 dependent persons were reported to abuse opium daily; that is about 2.1 per cent of the population in the North (p.17). The average opium dependent abuser consumes between 1.3 and 1.8 kg of raw opium per year (or an estimated 61 tons in the North or 63 tons for the whole country). In addition, many keep 250 to 300 grammes for medical and/or social purposes, (adding to 15 to 18 tons per year or a total of 80 tons in the whole country)  (p.43). Opium is sometimes used as currency to pay for work done (p.47). Two out 80 opium dependent abusers reported cannabis abuse and one reported heroin abuse (p.51). Heroin abuse appears to be rare according to key informants reports too. Volatile substances abuse is increasing and other drug abuse is rare (p.52) (Laos 1993a).

Abuser Characteristics

            According to surveys conducted in 1992/1993 in opium producing villages in the Northern provinces, most drug dependent abusers are males (80 to 90 per cent).  The age of abusers ranged from 28 to 91 years, with an average age of  55. Most dependent abusers are married and have large families. High child mortality is reported. Children tend to learn opium smoking from their parents and many of the youth are drug dependent. Most drug dependent abusers  are employed, hold a variety of occupations and live a normal life  (p.47). Most opium dependent abusers report abuse over a lifetime (20 to 40 years of abuse) (p.49) (Laos 1993a).

                                                                       Regional Variations

            Rates of opium dependence were reported in the North West, as follows, in Bokeo (3.12 per cent), Louang Namtha (4.46 per cent), and Phongsali (5.24 per cent). Rates of opium dependence are higher among the Ikor, Yao and Musser ethnic groups. The district of Viengthong (Houaphan) records the highest rate of opium dependence in Laos: 9.4 per cent. In Oudomsay and Louang Prabang, many opium dependent people are Khamu (Lao Theung), while many of the Lao Theung opium dependent people in Houaphan and Xieng Khouang are Lao Phong. It is conceivable that the Lao Phong are the group with the highest opium dependence rates in Laos (p.42) (Laos 1993a).


            Opium abuse is stable. A large decrease in cannabis abuse and some increase in volatile substances abuse are reported (p.13) (U.N. 1994,II).           

            Opium consumption may have been introduced to Laos by Chinese  migrants at the beginning of the 19th century. The French colonial regime consolidated production and opium sales around 1899 when it granted a monopoly of opium production to the Hmong and Yao people of Xieng Khouang (p.8) (Laos 1993a). Before World War II, there were more than 100,000 drug dependent people in Laos (Laos 1991). According to the French administrator of the Xieng Khouang region, about 60 per cent of the male population were opium dependent in the early 1950's. After the departure of the French, opium production increased and heroin was initiated, partly to finance war related expenses or ensure the loyalty of ethnic minorities. As of 1971, legislative prohibition on production and consumption was introduced, except for ethnic minorities who were granted permits for cultivation and personal consumption  (p.8). In the early 1970's, heroin availability increased and dependence on it became a concern in urban areas (p.10). In 1972, between 10 to 15 per cent of admissions to treatment abused heroin. In addition to city dwelling heroin abusers, there was an estimated 50,000 opium dependent abusers, mostly in rural areas (p.41).  In general, drug control programmes weakened with the termination of UNFDAC assistance in 1982  and the absence of other  international assistance (p.10) (Laos 1993a).

            Based on the information reviewed, drug dependence, about 42,000 in 1993,  decreased in comparison to 1972 estimates (50,000), at least in the North, and compared to pre WWII when the number of dependent abusers reached 100,000. The decrease may be attributed to drug control measures through legislation and a drug demand reduction campaign conducted in the 70's (p.41) (Laos 1993a; UNDCP 1995).

Mode of Intake

            Opium is smoked and ingested. Cannabis is smoked. Volatiles substances are inhaled (U.N. 1994,II:11).

            Opium is smoked by most. Some ingest it. Opium injection was not reported (p.50). Most opium abusers also use alcohol and 31 per cent combine opium with aspirin or similar substances (p.51) (Laos 1993a).


                                                  COSTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF ABUSE

            Cost and consequences of drug abuse are reported to be significant (p.16) (U.N. 1994,II).

            Drug dependent opium abusers listed health problems as the main reason for starting consumption and developing dependence. Opium appears to be used as a medicine for every ailment. Some even believe that they would die if they quit opium consumption (p.48). Ceremonial opium consumption is not considered a problem. In all villages, the need to control or eliminate dependence is supported and many seek treatment services  on their own initiative (p.49). Among the problems associated with opium abuse are health problems (75 per cent), financial problems (68 per cent), emotional problems (61 per cent), sex problems (59 per cent), poor memory  (46 per cent), giving up work (26 per cent), arguments with family or friends (11 per cent) and loss of a spouse or a friend (6 per cent) (p.51) (Laos 1993a). In many villages there are no health services and opium is the only medicine available (UNDCP 1995a).

            HIV related testing of blood donors and repatriated refugees and voluntary testing which includes travelers requesting visas and hospital referrals suggests that prior to 1990, one out of 1,246 people tested HIV positive and between 1990 and July 1991, 2 out of 2415 tested HIV positive (Laos 1991).  By mid 1992, 14 HIV cases were reported. People returning from work abroad, especially in Thailand, and repatriated refugees are considered high risk HIV carriers (UNDCP 1992).


                                                 NATIONAL RESPONSES TO DRUG ABUSE

                                                                         National Strategy

            In 1994, the Government of the Lao PDR formulated a Comprehensive Drug Control Programme which sets out the national drug control strategy and priority needs through the year 2000.  The Plan was developed under a UNDCP-funded project. 

            The broad objectives of the Programme are: a) gradual elimination of opium poppy cultivation; b) elimination of cannabis cultivation; c) elimination of drug trafficking and refining; d) drug demand reduction and prevention; e) elimination of trafficking, refining and other drug-related crimes; f) control of licit and illicit activities in connection with narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors under international control; g) facilitation of international cooperation, including ratification of UN Conventions.  The Programme calls for the strengthening of the drug control bodies both at the policy and at the operational levels.  The Government also indicated that it is making efforts to reduce the supply and demand of narcotic drugs through rural development activities and through the development of a law enforcement capability (UNDCP 1995).

            Drug-related statistics are officially provided by the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision.

                                                    Structure of National Drug Control Organs

            The central government unit responsible for liaisonand coordination of national drug control policy is Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (NCDCS) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This unit was set up in 1990.  It is composed of representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Agriculture as well as the Department of Customs (Ministry of Finance) and the Council of Ministers (UNDCP 1995).

            In August 1992, the first Counter Narcotics Unit, the central agency for drug law enforcement, was established under the Ministry of the Interior. It was re-named the Counter Narcotics Office in 1994. This office is divided in 5 sections: Investigation, Suppression, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Administration. Its capacity is being diversified through additional training and equipment to deal with the significant threat presented by the growth of transit trafficking of heroin through Laos as well as the potential for local production (UNDCP 1995).

            Created in 1994, the Department of Food and Drugs under the Ministry of Health, is the competent authority empowered to issue certificates and authorizations for the import and export of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.  Customs (Ministry of Finance) is in charge of import and export control at the border (UNDCP 1995).



Treaty Adherence

            The Lao People's Democratic Republic is party to the 1961 Convention only (unamended)(Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).


Measures Taken with respect to Drug Control

Recently enacted laws and regulations

In 1990, an article concerning trade or possession of narcotic drugs was included in the Penal Code.  A series of ministerial decrees introduced between 1990 and 1994 have contributed to the establishment of a legal framework for control of licit trade of drugs that conform almost fully with the prescriptions of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.  The legal framework concerning licit trade has been further strengthened in 1994. (UNDCP 1995; Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).

Licensing system for manufacture, trade and distribution

            Notification number 52/74 dated 26 July 1994 from the Department of Food and Drug regulates trade of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.  Each year, the Department of  Food and Drug establishes import or export quotas for these drugs. (Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).

Control system

            Prescription requirement:  There are no prescription requirements for supply or dispensation of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. No information was supplied as to how supply and dispensation are controlled (Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).

            Warnings on packages:  The law does not require warnings on packages or accompanying leaflet information to safeguard the users of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).

            Control of non-treaty substances, if any:  None reported.

            Other administrative measures:  None reported.

Social Measures

Penal Sanctions related to social measures

            In 1993, courts applied measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation or social reintegration for a drug-related offence neither as an alternative nor in addition to conviction or punishment (Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).

Other social measures

            In 1990, it was reported that there were treatment programmes for opium addicts in various provinces in UNDCP projects and NGO programmes. No comprehensive government treatment programme exists (Annual Reports Questionnaire Part I 1990, 1993; Statement made at 37th session, Commission on Narcotic Drugs).


                                                        SUPPLY REDUCTION ACTIVITIES

                                                                          Crop Eradication

            No eradication of opium poppy was reported in 1994 by the Government of Laos.  The law does not prohibit opium poppy cultivation.  From 1993, the government started to enforce eradication measures against cannabis cultivation.  Burning and manual destruction were the most popular methods to destroy illicit cultivation of cannabis.  The Government of Laos also launched mass media, radio and television campaigns to discourage illicit cultivation of both opium poppy and cannabis plants (U.N. 1994).

                                                                   Alternative Development

            The government does not view an immediate prohibition of opium poppy cultivation as a feasible solution, but intends to rather implement the ban gradually, while developing an alternative development package with assistance from UNDCP and other agencies and bodies concerned with drug control.  A number of  UNDCP  and Norwegian Church-sponsored alternative development projects are currently being implemented in Laos.  The US also have an alternative development project in Houapanh provinces (UNDCP 1995).   


            The weak legislative framework of the Lao PDR and the resultant unclear laws and regulations hampers the work of the judiciary system. Opium poppy cultivation is not a punisable offense.  Drug control activities are regulated by the Penal Code (article 135) which is directed at the suppression of illicit traffic and possession of drugs for abuse.  The Penal Code, however, is not specific in defining which substances can be categorized as drugs.  Drug control legislation is scheduled to be updated for implementation between 1995-2000 according to a calender set in the Comprehensive Drug Control Programme (UNDCP 1995).

            Institutional strengthening of the drug control administration is crucial for the success of the Comprehensive Drug Control Programme.  Additional resources and further definition of the functions of the Lao Commission on Drug Control and Supervision is required.  


            No information on money-laundering activities in Lao PDR is currently available.  However, the Government of the Lao PDR has also demonstrated a keen interest in the prevention of money-laundering and is now considering enacting legislation in accordance with Article 3, number 1b of the 1988 Convention (UNDCP 1994).               

Primary Prevention

            The adult literacy rate has been 53.5% in 1992.Gross enrolment ratio for all levels, expressed as a percentage of those aged 6 to23 has been 48 per cent in 1992 (p.157). Public expenditure on education has been estimated at 1.1 per cent of GNP in 1990 (p.179). One per cent of the population has televisions (p.159) (HDR 1995).

            Low school enrolment and low levels of literacy have been attributed to lack of trained teachers, poor school facilities and lack of emphasis on formal education among other reasons. Improvements in the area of education is considered a preliminary condition for rural development and drug control  (p.62) (Laos 1993a). 

            In this context, it is reported that little has been done with regard to preventive education. Health officials, among others, convey to villagers warnings on drug related risks in some districts. Occasionally, similar messages are broadcast on the radio. Messages do not seem to make a consistent drug prevention strategy (p.35) (Laos 1993b).

            A national AIDS committee to monitor and oversee prevention activities  was established in 1988 (Laos 1991). HIV prevention activities consisting of staff training and a survey on drug injection and HIV took place, with the assistance of WHO and UNDP in 1992 (p.35) (Laos 1993b).         


Treatment and Rehabilitation

            Population per doctor has been estimated at 4,545 for the years 1988-91. Public expenditure on health has been 1 per cent of GDP in 1990 (p.171). Population with access to health services has been estimated at 67% for the years 1985-93 (p.159) (HDR 1995).

            Given limited access to health services, opium is widely “abused” for medical purposes; hence, the development of drug dependence (p.61) (Laos 1993a). Efforts to improve health care services have been undertaken as part of the efforts to reduce drug abuse (p.34-35) (Laos 1993b).

            The NCDCS is the national body responsible for the coordination of drug treatment programmes as of 1990 (p.44). UNDCP provided financial and technical assistance. More of the same assistance is needed to train treatment staff and to establish mobile and stationary treatment units (p.45). There is no inventory of treatment and rehabilitation programmes in the country and no standardized record keeping systems in treatment facilities. In 1994, one non-hospital residential treatment unit, where 56 patients were treated and 60 sought treatment for the first time, was reported (p.46). All abusers in treatment are opiates dependent.The average rate of relapse one year after treatment, ranges between 15 and 20 per cent (p.47). International assistance has not been provided to assess the extent, nature and effectiveness of  treatment programmes (p.49). The following treatment programmes have been reported to exist: detoxification, maintenance, seeking out drug dependent abusers in their environment,  self help groups, support to families of drug dependent persons, emergency aid centres. Treatment programmes of 3 weeks duration are followed by one month opium maintenance therapy  (p.50). Treatment approaches have not been changed recently. Treatment cost estimates are not available. There is no health insurance to cover drug treatment and rehabilitation (p.51). Drug dependent offenders within the criminal justice system are provided with general medical care (p.59). International assistance has not been provided in this area (p.60)   (U.N. 1994,II).

            Some treatment initiatives appear to have occured independently in a variety of places. Most focus on drug dependent people below the age of 45 and consist mainly of “cold turkey” detoxification or use of herbal and traditional medicines. In such cases, rehabilitation follow up is rare and relapse is believed to be high (p34) (Laos 1993b).


References and Notes

Supply Reduction

UNDCP 1995a Information provided by UNDCP staff

UNDCP 1995.  “Lao PDR 1996-97, Country Programme Framework,” October 1995 (draft).

UNDCP 1994.  “Lao PDR Annual Field Report,” 1994.

CND 1995.  Illicit Drug Traffic and Supply, Including Reports from Subsidiary Bodies and Evaluation of Their Activities, Illicit Drug Trafficking: Report of the Secretariat, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 38th session, Vienna, 14-23 March 1995. E/CN.7/1995/7

INCB 1994.  Precursors and Chemicals Frequently used in the Illicit Manufacture of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1994.

Laos 1993a.  “Proposal for a Comprehensive Drug Control Programme” (Summary). Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Vientiane 1993.

Laos 1993b   “Proposal for a Comprehensive Drug Control Programme” (Summary, Vol. 1, 2 and 3). Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Vientiane, 1993.

EIU 1995.  “Country Profile: Lao PDR 1994-95,” The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Honlea 1994.  “Current Situation and Most Recent trends in Illicit Drug Traffic in  the Asia and Pacific Region:  Country Report by Laos,” Item 3 of the provisional agenda, Nineteenth Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA), Asia and the Pacific, Wellington, 14-18 November 1994, UN/HONLAP/1994/CRP.13

Honlea 1995.  “Report of the Twentieth  Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies” (HONLEA), Asia and the Pacific, Jakarta, 18-22 September 1995.

INCSR 1995.  “Laos PDR  in the  International Narcotics Control Strategy Report,” US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotic Matters, April 1995.

ICPO 1994.  “Asian Drug Scene: New Challenges,” ICPO/Interpol 1994.


                                                                        Demand Reduction

HDR 1995 The Human Development Report 1995, UNDP, New York, Oxford University Press.

Laos 1991. “Country Report on Activities in Prevention of Drug Use and Prevention of HIV Infection”. Presentation of participants from Laos, Inter-Regional Workshop on Drug Use and HIV-Infection, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 7-11 October 1991.

Laos 1993a. “Proposal for a Comprehensive Drug Control Programme. Assessment of the Drug Situation.”
Volume 1. Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Vientiane, 1993.

Laos 1993b. “Proposal for a Comprehensive Drug Control Programme. Programme Document.”
Volume 2. Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Vientiane, 1993.

UNDCP 1992 “HIV and Drug Infection in Laos” Facsimile

UNDCP 1995 “The Link Between Anti Opium Law Legislation, Enforcement, Project Activities and the Reduction of Opium Production and Addidction in the Project Zone” prepared by Leik Boonwaat for UNDCP, March 1995


*  The general background information is taken from HDR 1995

** The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section is primarily based on Annual Reports Questionnaires Part I for 1993.