UNODC & WHO Celebrate a Decade of Delivering Effective and Humane Treatment for People with Drug Use Disorders Through Their Joint Programme

© Nick Danziger in Viet Nam for the UNODC/WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care

Vienna (Austria), 20 April 2021 — The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), celebrated a decade of delivering effective and humane treatment for people with drug use disorders through their joint progamme.

For over a decade, the UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care has supported Member States in their efforts to address the world drug problem, through evidence-based and human rights-based prevention and treatment approaches.

The Programme celebrated this ongoing collaboration during a side event at the margins of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The event invited civil society partners and experts to share their joint efforts and achievements in protecting the health and recovery of people with drug use disorders; including those in contact with the criminal justice system.

Welcoming remarks were delivered by Andrés Finguerut, Chief with the Drug Prevention and Health Branch at UNODC, and Devora Kestel, Director with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO.

While Andrés Finguerut underlined the importance of the UNGASS 2016 Outcome Document and its recognition of drug use disorders as heath disorders, while Devora Kestel specifically highlighted the need for closer partnerships and collaboration.

“Collaborative and accelerated actions by all relevant parties and stakeholders are needed more than ever […]. Partnership is essential to be successful in this journey and we are grateful to our colleagues in UNODC for successful collaboration in this area and for Member States for supporting our collaboration.”

During the event, the challenges ahead were also addressed; particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing stigma and discrimination of people with drug use disorders is of key importance, as it can be a barrier to accessing services. This is even more crucial during the ongoing pandemic, with increased morbidity and mortality of people who use drugs associated with COVID-19, according to emerging data. Ms. Giovanna Campello, Chief, Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section (PTRS), stated there remains much to be done on that regard.

“We need more access and we need less stigma. More access to a wide continuum of services that are based on scientific evidence and of good quality and this includes respect for the dignity and the rights of people who use drugs and people with drug use disorders. [...] Too many people still see drug use disorders as the consequence or even a well-deserved punishment of a mistake that does not deserve treatment. This has to change,” she said.

The focus of the event was placed on building a bridge for future joint efforts between these UNODC and WHO ensuring broader partnerships to enhance evidence-based treatment of drug use disorders and to bring practical solutions to address the world drug problem.

The side event highlighted effective joint projects and achievements in the past such as the development of the UNODC/WHO International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders (2020), the presentation of results of the joint UNODC/WHO S-O-S Project to Stop Overdose Safely, and joint work on promoting treatment as an alternative to conviction or punishment. Member States and civil society also shared further national and regional level examples, initiatives and perspectives on the provision of drug use disorder treatment and care, as well as on justice and health cooperation.

UNODC promotes and supports evidence-based and ethical treatment policies, strategies and interventions worldwide, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries, to reduce the health and social burden caused by drug use and drug use disorders through the UNODC/WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care.

Ensuring continued support from the donor community for the joint work of UNODC and WHO on technical assistance to Member States for the treatment of drug use disorders remains of essence to effectively address the world drug problem.

Over the last decade, UNODC and WHO have proven to be agents of change: the UNODC/WHO programme has contributed to making a difference for thousands of people in need in all regions to improve their health and well-being.

The event was co-organized by UNODC PTRS, the World Health Organization and the UNODC Justice Section and co-sponsored by Republic of Kazakhstan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Vietnam, and the United States of America, the African Union, the European Union and the Vienna NGO Committee.