Responding to global opioid crisis, UNODC launches strategy to protect public health

Responding to global opioid crisis, UNODC launches strategy to protect public health. Image: DEA26 June 2018 - UNODC launched yesterday an organization-wide strategy to deal with the deadly global opioid crisis which is mainly affecting North America and parts of Africa and the Middle East, and threatening to spread more widely.

Misuse of opioids, such as fentanyl, usually widely used to treat severe pain and in anaesthesia; its analogues, as well as tramadol, used to treat moderate and moderate-to-severe pain, are of growing concern worldwide. UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov highlighted in his message to the event, that the organization "is further stepping up support to countries grappling with the opioid crisis with the launch of this integrated and multidisciplinary action."

The UNODC Integrated Strategy on the Global Opioid Crisis is a multi-pronged initiative, Mr. Fedotov said, "addressing international control of substances and law enforcement efforts to tackle supply, as well as initiatives to promote use and access to opioids for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing misuse and diversion." All of which are "critical to addressing the threats posed by synthetic opioids."

The Executive Director emphasized that the work of the organization "will also go beyond the current crisis to strengthen prevention platforms, including through early warning systems."

Justice Tettey, UNODC's Laboratory Chief said that "new paradigms in international drug trafficking further fuelled the crisis." These include the ease of making fentanyl analogues; availability over the internet; and delivery using the international mail system and express courier. What was even more worrying, Mr. Tettey said, was that "users were often not sure of what they are taking nor of the differences in potencies of these products."

Speaking at the event, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs said that the strategy "seeks to work with a wide range of UN partners", including the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and other international and regional organizations, academia and civil society. And it does so, Mr. Lemahieu emphasized, "to help protect the health and welfare of humankind."

The launch event was co-sponsored by the United States and Canada. Ms. Nan Fife, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the UN in Vienna spoke about the challenges posed by synthetic opioids in the United States, and said that these "are fuelling a drug crisis of devastating proportions." The US government agencies, Ms. Fife highlighted, "are examining domestic responses in law enforcement and public health programmes to see where we should make changes, or redouble efforts."

She applauded UNODC for its "efforts to develop a comprehensive response to the crisis," and highlighted that with its partners INCB and WHO, they "form the essential components of a three-pronged multilateral response to the opioid crisis, with each agency contributing unique expertise in certain areas."

"In many cases, the health and safety risks posed by new psychoactive substances are not well understood," said Mark Vcislo, first secretary at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN in Vienna.

He went on to contrast this with other cases, highlighting that "as Canada's recent experiences with fentanyl and fentanyl analogues will attest, the health risks have become all too apparent, due to the toll they are taking on the lives of Canadians every day."

To respond to the opioid crisis, "Canada is implementing a broad range of measures to respond, based on the four pillars of the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement," Mr. Vcislo said.

UNODC is the United Nations Secretariat entity responsible for supporting Member States in their efforts against drugs and crime. Together, ongoing programmes in the areas of synthetic drugs monitoring, early warning and trend analysis, national forensic and counternarcotic capacity building, law enforcement operational work, and prevention and treatment provide a unique platform for contributing to the reduction of the non-medical use of synthetic opioids.

Further information:

UNODC Integrated Strategy on the Global Opioid Crisis