Actions to tackle global opioid crisis outlined by governments and experts in Vienna

Actions to tackle global opioid crisis outlined by governments and experts in Vienna

5 December 2018 - Around 35 million people globally misuse opioids, including heroin according to the 2017 UNODC World Drug Report. Furthermore, opioids account for about 70 per cent of disease and deaths associated with drug use.

To identify how to address these and related challenges, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly organized an Intergovernmental expert group meeting on the international challenge posed by the non-medical use of synthetic opioids, from 3 to 4 December 2018 in Vienna.

In his introductory message, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov stressed the importance of a coordinated international response to the opioid crisis. He noted that UNODC's Strategic Response to the Opioid Crisis "provides a platform to effectively address supply and demand, improve access to controlled pain medications while preventing diversion and abuse, and reinforce early warning." 

Dr. Viroj Sumyai, President of the International Narcotics Control Board, said that the changing drug landscape necessitates adapted responses, including preventing e-commerce sites, darknet and social media being exploited to offer fentanyls.

He explained that INCB seeks to ensure "that adequate supplies of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors are available for legitimate medical, scientific and industrial uses, and that the diversion of drugs and their precursors into illicit channels does not occur."

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Deputy Director General of Programmes, stressed that the challenge of preventing and treating the harms related to drug use, and the challenge of ensuring access to drugs for medical use, must be addressed in a balanced way.

She added that "WHO remains very concerned with the 75 per cent of the world population, predominantly in lower-income countries, who do not have adequate access to opioid analgesics for pain relief and palliative care."

Participants at the meeting agreed that international and multilateral cooperation across relevant sectors should be increased, including collaboration between law enforcement, justice and the health sector.

They further acknowledged the need for special investigative techniques and new collaborations, such as cooperation with the private sector and parcel or shipping companies. Attendees identified the need to better connect policy decisions to existing information and intelligence systems.

The importance of further development and enforcement of national legislation aimed at preventing diversion and illicit manufacture of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals used to produce them was also stressed at the meeting.

Regarding the public health aspect of non-medical use of synthetic opioids, participants said that increased data collection at the national, regional, international levels is required, to better identify the scope of the synthetic drug problem so efforts can be more targeted and effective.

It was also agreed that people who use drugs should have access to prevention and treatment services. This includes medicines like naloxone to reverse overdoses, needle exchange programmes and opioid substitution therapies to prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

Speakers at the event highlighted the importance of cooperation between UNODC, INCB and WHO to lead a coordinated response to tackle this serious threat.

Further information:

UNODC Integrated Strategy on the Global Opioids Crisis

Intergovernmental expert group meeting on international challenges posed by the non-medical use of synthetic opioids

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

World Drug Report 2018: Analysis of Drug Markets. Opiates, cocaine, cannabis, synthetic drugs