Vienna (Austria), 10 October 2022 — Today, the Chair of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) at its sixty-fifth session, H.E. Mr. Ghislain D’Hoop of Belgium, held a One-Day Special Forum – the apex of his global initiative to scale up the implementation of the international drug policy commitments on improving availability of and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.
Medicines containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (controlled medicines) are vital to relieve pain for people suffering from serious illnesses. They have important uses in surgical procedures that can save and preserve lives. And they are essential in the treatment of drug-use disorders, mental health issues, and neurological conditions.
Yet 75 per cent1 of people around the world, mostly in low and middle-income countries, do not have access to such controlled medicines.
In 2022, the lack of access to controlled medicines remains a global crisis, with the World Drug Report 2022 finding that great inequality remains in the availability of pharmaceutical opioids for medical consumption. Without improvement to the global situation, it will be difficult to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being.
The CND Chair’s initiative on availability and access kicked off in Vienna in March 2022 with the Joint Call to Action, where the Chair joined forces with the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ms. Ghada Waly, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Ms. Jagjit Pavadia, to call on the international community to honour the commitment to make adequate provision to ensure, and to not unduly restrict, the availability of controlled substances that are considered indispensable for medical and scientific purposes. This was followed by events at the United Nations offices in New York and Geneva, culminating in the One-Day Special Forum in Vienna.
The forum was held in a hybrid format – combining in-person participation at the Vienna International Centre and online participation – to facilitate participation from experts and relevant stakeholders worldwide. There were over 300 registered participants, with the meeting also webcast to a global audience.
The CND Chair launched an e-learning tool developed by the CND Secretariat, which raises awareness around the international drug policy commitments on improving availability of and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, as well as showcases the contributions of key stakeholders.
The Executive Director of UNODC, Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products of WHO, Dr. Mariângela Simão, and President of INCB came together to address the audience. In her video message, Ms. Waly noted that “medicine should not just be for the privileged” and that “medicines are not luxuries”. Also addressing the audience through a video message was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health of Belgium, H.E. Mr. Frank Vandenbroucke, who stressed the need to “think also about the family and caregivers who feel powerless and stressed because they cannot help their loved ones or their patients to find some relief”.
There were two panel discussions on the topics of addressing barriers to availability and access in the supply chain, including in emergency situations; and engaging patients, healthcare professionals, communities and policymakers. Representatives of Member States, UNODC, WHO, INCB, academia and civil society participated in the interactive discussions and shared good practices and strategies.
Concluding the event, the CND Chair called on the international community to strengthen networking, discussions and partnerships, in line with the principle of common and shared responsibility, to ensure that no patient, or person, is left behind.
The CND is the policymaking body of the United Nations with principal responsibility for drug-related matters, and a governing body of UNODC. The Commission is the forum for Member States to exchange knowledge and good practices in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.
1 A 2016 report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) estimated that around 5.5 billion people around the world have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs.