Profile | Vienna’s Inside Men: Thomas Pietschmann

Whether they’re uncovering drug cartels, teaching how to protect secrets, improving the image of the police department or fighting corruption, skepticism is their speciality

Drug Research Expert, UN Office on Drugs and Crime

When it comes to fighting the good global fight against drugs, Thomas Pietschmann, 55, is guided by one simple credo: It’s all about the numbers. “I’m an economist by training, so my idea has always been that you can’t address problems unless you have the basic numbers.”

Every year, Pietschmann and his team write up the UNODC World Drug Report. The data they collect -throughout the year affords him a detailed, bird’s-eye view of global patterns: How and where drugs are being produced, who the traffickers and consumers are, and where the traffic networks are.

As a gebürtiger Wiener, he also knows what’s happening right around the corner, having built up good relationships with local law enforcement. So he’s just as aware of how a spate of shady characters plaguing one local subway station disappeared overnight (a change in a multiple offense requirement for taking in drug dealers) as he is of how Mexican drug cartels have been trafficking cocaine less (they were too busy fighting
each other).

Pietschmann’s purview is not only both global and local, it’s virtual. He has forged good relations with the Austrian Police Task Force that targets drug trafficking through the darknet, in which Austria is surprisingly active.  For example, in one year Austria ranked among the top 10 supplier countries of cocaine to Australia via the Tor network.

One might think that Pietschmann’s vast expertise on the drug trade and the sordid world it exposes him to would incline him to an extreme moral position. But no, that would be “just a religious belief.” He always comes back to the facts. The recent wave of cannabis legalization in the U.S. only highlights his belief that moderation
is key.

“The U.S. goes much more into extremes,” he said. “You had kids being put into prison for having a joint, which is ridiculous. And now they’ve made it completely legal, allowing companies to market the product. In Europe, we have been more moderate, hence our overall drug use rates are lower.”

Again, just look at the figures.

My name is Thomas, so I’m a doubter. My first reaction is to say, only if we can confirm this, reconfirm it, and then again a third time, then I start trusting it.

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Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.
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