UNODC Builds Global Capacity for Quality Assessment & Assurance in Drug Use Disorder Treatment and Care

© UNODC / Carla McKirdy

Vienna (Austria), 29 October 2020 — According to the UNODC 2020 World Drug Report, only 1 in 8 people with drug use disorders have access to drug treatment. This situation has only worsened in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic — especially for women and children. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, stated that the pandemic is a wake-up call to come together to address the world’s fragilities and strengthen capacity for action.

To enhance the global capacity in drug use disorder treatment and care, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) successfully conducted a virtual “Training of Trainers on Drug Use Disorder Treatment Quality Assurance” based on the UNODC-WHO International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders (or the Standards), for more than 25 experts from around the world.

This virtual training of trainers, organized with the generous support of the Government of Spain, was held from 28 September to 2 October for experts and future trainers in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.

This capacity-building initiative has equipped a group of experts with the tools to train national quality assurance teams, jointly alongside UNODC.

In turn, national teams will be adequately prepared to undertake the assessment of drug use disorder treatment services, according to the criteria and indicators developed through the Standards.

The cornerstone of the Standards is the framework of the UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care. Drafting this new guidance involved a thorough process combining expert consultations, a review of the existing guidance and in-depth field-testing procedures. The final version of the Standards was launched in April 2020, jointly by UNODC and the WHO.

In 2016, with generous funding support from the Government of the United States, UNODC initiated the development of a Quality Assurance (QA) Toolkit for drug use disorder treatment services and systems, envisioned as a key instrument for the dissemination of the Standards. QA tools aim at supporting Member States in their efforts to develop national strategies and QA mechanisms to ensure a qualified, evidence-informed, and effective response to drug use disorders.

The toolkit has already been fully piloted in Afghanistan and Nigeria, successfully identifying gaps and challenges in the treatment system and also guiding a process of change to progressively improve the quality of services at the national level.

To date, UNODC has provided technical assistance and conducted trainings for drug treatment QA assessors in twelve (12) countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

In addition, a smaller set of ‘Consensus Standards’ has been jointly developed in collaboration with partner organizations such as WHO, OAS/CICAD, COPOLAD, EMCDDA and the Colombo Plan.

UNODC is set to officially launch the QA tool kit together with WHO as part of a wider dissemination strategy of the Standards.

Over the coming months, with generous ongoing support from the Government of Spain and in collaboration with regional partners, UNODC intends to provide technical assistance for drug use disorder treatment quality assurance for select Latin American and Caribbean countries.

This endeavour aims to support governments in their efforts to improve drug use disorder treatment, in line with international standards. It is in this context, that UNODC organized a QA Training of Trainers in order to ensure a group of experts, familiar with the Standards and the QA toolkits, is available to support UNODC in its work with Member States.

In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Andres Finguerut, Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch UNODC, highlighted how “the fragilities of the system do not only rely on the limited access to drug use disorder treatment, but also on the fact that the quality of treatment on offer is often extremely poor even when available. Too often cruel practices, physical abuse, punishing practices are inflicted on people with drug use disorders in the name of ‘treatment and rehabilitation’. This needs to end and we need to work together for truly accessible and evidence-based drug use disorder treatment and care services.”

During the training, experts had the opportunity to refresh their knowledge of the Standards, learn about QA tools, participate in a variety of QA testing exercises, and actively exchange ideas and experiences throughout several interactive online sessions and group exercises.

“Drug dependence treatment and care is not neutral; good quality drug treatment can improve patient community outcomes, whilst poor quality treatment can make people’s health worse,” emphasized Ms. Annette Dale-Perera, UNODC consulting expert on Quality Assurance in Drug Use Disorder Treatment and Care who led the training.