Vienna (Austria), 19 December 2019 - In 2017, there were around 53.4 million users of opioids, both persons who use opiates and persons who use prescription opioids for non-medical purposes. Opioids are the mainstay drugs for chronic pain management but at the same time, if misused, they present the greatest harm to the health of users.
To identify how to address these and related challenges, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized a meeting on 10 December to bring the UNODC Opioid Strategy donors and collaborating partners together to set the future direction and priorities for the Strategy 2020 onwards.
Participants heard presentations from a number of UNODC-sister agencies, including the Wold Health Organization (WHO), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Universal Postal Union (UPU) and several UNODC implementing partners, such as Global SMART Programme, Global Scientific and Forensic Programme, CrimJust, Cybercrime and Anti-Money Laundering and Container Control Programme.
As highlighted by Gilles Forte, WHO Team Coordinator of Technical Cooperation for Essential Drugs and Traditional Medicine: "It's a problem that started in America but is spreading to other parts of the world. A high rate of opioid prescription does not mean a rise in overdose death, this has a lot to do with the way opioids are prescribed. There has been a shift from more liberal prescription to more restrictive. We need more research in non-opioid medication for pain treatment. Not easy but necessary. We should also consider the possibility of prescription opioid monitoring."
The UNODC Opioid Strategy is a five-pillar integrated, inter-agency initiative to help Member States respond to the global synthetic drugs crisis, which mainly affects North America with fentanyl and its analogue and parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East with tramadol. "The UNODC is looking to change the understanding around substance use disorders to have Member States take more of a health centred approach and to address the challenges that are posed by synthetic drugs and synthetic opioids" said Asma Fakhri, Coordinator of UNODC Opioid Strategy, in the opening video on the impact of the strategy in Nigeria.
The UNODC Opioid Strategy also presented the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs and its 4 modules already available: the Forensics Module, developed in collaboration with UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Section, the Legal Module created in collaboration with WHO, the Precursors Module created with INCB and the more recent Postal Security Module, developed in collaboration with UPU and officially introduced at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) intersessional meeting in October 2019. All UNODC Opioid Strategy partners highlighted that the toolkit was essential to developing their capacity and improving their outreach.
The toolkit, which is an interactive platform meant to provide guidance on the identified options for response to the global opioid crisis, is being moved to a more user-friendly platform, which will be accessible via the new UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs website. Stephanie Green, U.S. Department of State, Drug Supply Reduction Advisor commended UNODC for its efforts to develop the website.
The key considerations that emerged during final discussions were highlighting UNODC Opioid Strategy's success to tackle the current opioid crisis by coordinating the efforts of various UN entities and functioning like a common platform to enhance cooperation in terms of operational exchange, protection of front-line officers and policy making.
After an insightful day of discussions and synergies on emerging priorities, the collaborating partners and donors of the UNODC Opioid Strategy identified two main areas of improvement, namely to enhance rational prescribing and access to opioid for medical and scientific use, and to strengthen prevention and treatment programmes related to opioids.
On the future direction of the Strategy, Justice Tettey, UNODC's Laboratory Chief said that: "now we are facing an opioid crisis, the next one is a methamphetamine crisis, the next one might be another synthetic drug. The goal of the Strategy is to be able to respond to certain crises with a certain amount of coordination. With the already existing five-pillar integrated UNODC Opioid Strategy and the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs we have started gearing ourselves up for more than an opioid crisis."