Commission on Narcotic Drugs puts drug control in the context of security, health and development

20 March 2009 - The Commission on Narcotic Drugs wrapped up its fifty-second session today in Vienna with a range of decisions to strengthen drug control. The highlight of the session, which ran from 11 to 20 March, was a high-level segment on 11 and 12 March to review drug control since the twentieth special session was held in 1998.

Weighing up decade-long efforts, Heads of State and Ministers adopted a draft political declaration and plan of action and agreed on further steps to reduce the threat posed by drugs to health and security. Chairperson of the session and Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia Libertina Amathila said, "the Declaration will be a valuable tool to spur national efforts and strengthen international cooperation."

Setting the tone for drug control policy in the coming decade, in the political declaration States recognized that they had a shared responsibility for solving the world drugs problem, that a "balanced and comprehensive approach" was called for and that human rights needed to be recognized. Crucially, it stressed health as the basis for international drugs policy. It also recognized the need for support services related to the prevention of drug use, and the treatment, care and rehabilitation of drug users

In the action plan, Governments proposed measures to reduce the illicit supply of drugs as well as remedies for abuse and dependence and ways to control precursors and amphetamine-type stimulants. It placed emphasis on scientific evidence to support interventions; mainstreaming drug treatment and rehabilitation into national healthcare systems; and ensuring accessibility to drug demand reduction services. Governments agreed on the need for international cooperation to eradicate the illicit cultivation of drug-related crops and the importance of alternative development opportunities in areas that grow such crops.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the Commission that global drug control efforts had had "a dramatic unintended consequence: a criminal black market of staggering proportions." Presenting his report entitled "Organized crime and its threat to security", he said, "the crime and corruption associated with the drugs trade are providing strong evidence to a vocal minority of pro-drug lobbyists to argue that the cure is worse than the disease and that legalization is the solution." But he warned that "this would be a historical mistake" because "there is no need to choose between health (drug control) and security (crime prevention). They are complementary and not contradictory commitments."

UNODC and the African Union launched a joint initiative to support an African plan to fight burgeoning traffic in illicit drugs and related criminal activity on the continent over the next five years. Support for the African Union Plan of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2007-2012) was announced. The project aims to strengthen the ability of the Commission of the African Union and regional organizations, particularly the Economic Community of West African States, in the areas of policymaking, norm-setting and capacity-building.

UNODC has been pushing for a pro-health agenda. During the fifty-second session of the Comission, the Joint Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care was launched with the World Health Organization, a milestone in the development of a comprehensive, integrated health-based approach to drug policy. It can help reduce demand for illicit substances, relieve suffering and decrease drug-related harm to individuals and societies.

There were also agreements signed with the Islamic Republic of Iran to reduce the vulnerability of women and Afghan refugees in Iran to drug abuse and the spread of HIV through drug use. A resolution was passed to improve the forensic capability of drug analysis laboratories and support for stronger regional counter-narcotics activities in East and West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and another to improve data collection for evidence-based policymaking.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Costa added: "In addition to health and security, development is a crucial aspect of drug control. I applaud the decision that was taken on promoting best practices and lessons learned from positive alternative development experiences".

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is the policy-setting body of UNODC on drug-control matters. Over 1,400 participants from 130 countries, international organizations and NGOs took part in the 2009 session.