Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


63rd CND high-level side event "Comprehensive and evidence-based approach in tackling the world drug problem"

3 March 2020


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be with you today. I am grateful to the Government of Croatia and the European Union for organizing this High-Level Panel with UNODC to discuss the central role of evidence in addressing the world drug problem.

I served as Minister of Social Solidarity in Egypt for six years, and have first-hand experience with designing and implementing national drug policy and programmes. My country's plan to combat drug abuse encompassed outreach to young people and the vulnerable, women and children. It addressed access to prevention and treatment services, and pathways to rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

At the same time, balanced drug responses seek to curb criminal activity and trafficking, while ensuring that essential medicines are available to those who need them.

Such support, if it is to be targeted and effective, must be based on evidence, on science and on facts.

We need reliable data collection to identify and understand the mechanisms and substances that threaten the most harm, and harm the people who are most vulnerable to falling into drug dependency.

We need the latest scientific research so we can design treatment interventions that offer the best chance of recovery.

We need to understand the pull and push factors of illicit cultivation to help people trapped by poverty into growing opium poppy and coca, to enable them to find sustainable alternative livelihoods.

We need to share intelligence and study the dynamics of markets, the profile of traffickers, routes and shipments to strengthen interdiction.

Drug markets are in a continuous state of flux, which requires flexible research tools and innovative data collection instruments.

In order to improve the evidence base, countries need to develop methodological standards; strengthen national coordination across all relevant agencies and national drug observatories; and access technical support to elaborate new methods such as drug use surveys, while improving existing sources such as administrative data.

Such measures require significant resources and support. Moreover, effective policy design and implementation require a formidable array of capacities and a high level of coordination.

They require adequate legislative frameworks, education, specialized training and equipment, as well as operational cooperation between law enforcement and criminal justice institutions with the health and social sectors.

But quality data and analysis, by helping governments target available resources in the most efficient way, represent an essential investment that pays off in the long term. This especially important for developing countries.

Moreover, technological and scientific advances can lead to more cost-effective solutions. Waste-water analysis, use of big data and artificial intelligence, for example, can be employed to fill in information gaps.

With this in mind, UNODC is testing innovative methodologies to improve coverage and timeliness of drug data, and we will keep you updated on our progress.

As requested by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, UNODC has developed a new questionnaire to collect information reflecting the reality of drug markets today and inform our flagship World Drug report.

Over the past 30 months, UNODC has designed a new Annual Report Questionnaire, or ARQ, through a comprehensive expert-level consultation.

The process has included two global expert group meetings, three online consultations and one pilot exercise with 35 volunteer countries. Overall, experts from more than 80 countries took part, along with colleagues from international organizations and experts from academia and civil society.

Close coordination was maintained throughout the process, in particular with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the African Union, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.

UNODC has kept the CND well briefed on progress, and the new ARQ is before the Commission this week and is being discussed.

Of course, a new questionnaire by itself does not improve knowledge. Countries need to be willing to share information and help build technical capacities to make this an effective tool.

It is especially critical that donors, as well as regional and international organizations, scale up their support to countries to develop and maintain high-quality national drug information systems.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have seen the difference better data can make. As just one example, the impact of the support that UNODC provided to Nigeria, with funds from the European Union, to undertake the first large scientific household survey on drug use was very visible in last year's World Drug Report.

As I highlighted in my remarks to the opening session yesterday, due to new data from Nigeria and India, the global estimate of opioid users jumped from 34 million to 53 million people.

We know that there are many other countries with underreported drug challenges - unaccounted, and therefore unaddressed. As my fellow Under Secretary-General Melissa Fleming likes to say, statistics are human beings with the tears dried off. We cannot allow people in need to go unassisted.

We look forward to sharing the 2020 World Drug Report with you and supporting you to make good use of the new questionnaire and other tools.

UNODC remains committed to working with you to improve the knowledge base on drugs, with devotion to scientific rigour and the highest standards of evidence, in partnership with our UN family, national, regional and international organizations, academia and civil society. 

Thank you and I wish you fruitful discussions.