Striking a balance between fair and inclusive health system and criminal justice response

Since 1988, the international community observes 26 June as the international Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as an expression of its determination to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse.

Supported each year by Government, international organizations, communities, schools, civil society, all over the world, this global observance aims to raise awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to society. Especially, as the world drug epidemic continues to pose a serious threat to public health, the safety and well-being of humanity, in particular young people, and the national security and sovereignty of States. It also undermines socio-economic and political stability and sustainable development.

The theme for the 2019 World Drug Day: 'Health for Justice. Justice for Health' emphasises that justice and health are two sides of the same coin when it comes to addressing drug problems. It underscores that a comprehensive approach to drug prevention and treatment needs to integrate questions of justice and health; people getting the treatment they need, connecting drug prevention, social inclusion and protection; and build knowledge for justice and health. More specifically, it seeks to employ a balanced approach to drug control. This means an equal emphasis on law enforcement responses and responses on drug use prevention, drug treatment and care.

Moreover, on 26 June, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime launches its 2019 World Drug Report which on an annual basis provides the international community with an update on the latest trends and developments in the area of production and trafficking of illicit drugs, world drug use as well as prevention and treatment.

The Report estimates the number of opioid users at 53 million, up 56 per cent from previous estimates[1], and that opioids are responsible for two thirds of the 585,000 people who died as a result of drug use in 2017. Globally, 11 million people injected drugs in 2017, of whom 1.4 million live with HIV and 5.6 million with hepatitis C.

"The findings of this year's World Drug Report fill in and further complicate the global picture of drug challenges, underscoring the need for broader international cooperation to advance balanced and integrated health and criminal justice responses to supply and demand," said Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director.

Nigeria as well as other countries in West Africa has commenced strengthening of reliable information on illicit drug trafficking and drug abuse. For instance, the data analysis of the first ever largescale nation-wide drug use survey which was conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics with the technical support of UNODC and the funding of the European Union found that more than 14% of Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years used drugs at least once during the previous year.The data suggests that the prevalence of past year drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent.

The report also shows that there is a gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders, in particular women and girls. With close to 3 million Nigerians living with some level of drug dependence, the extremely limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services exacerbates this health crisis.

Effectively addressing the supply of drugs requires shifting the focus of law enforcement agencies. Where vulnerability exists, criminal opportunity exploits. Addressing both in a balanced and comprehensive manner through health-centred, rights-based criminal justice responses is essential.  There is therefore an urgent need to ensure that law enforcement is an integral part of the solution.

Since 2012, UNODC with the funding of the European Union has been supporting the Government of Nigeria in data collection and research,  the development of a new National Drug Control Master Plan and related policies, capacity building for NDLEA, Customs and the Federal High Court, the development of school based prevention strategies and programmes, as well as the enhancement of the treatment capacities of relevant health service providers.

Through another regional EU funded project, UNODC further supports ECOWAS in the implementation of the 2016-2020 ECOWAS Drug Action Plan.