Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Opening of the 64th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

  12 April 2021

Distinguished Chair,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honor to address you today at the opening of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

This session comes at a unique juncture in the Commission’s history, as we commemorate an important anniversary, while looking ahead to a road filled with daunting challenges in international drug control.

As we celebrate 50 and 60 years of the 1961 and 1971 international drug control conventions respectively, the purpose of those landmark instruments should guide our way forward.

Beyond the legal texts of the conventions, we should also look to what they represent; the spirit in which these conventions were drafted and developed is one of unity and adaptability.

It is a spirit that brought the world together to shoulder a shared responsibility in the face of a common challenge, to protect the health and welfare of people everywhere.

Acting together, countries around the world established an effective international drug control system, and reacting together, they developed and supplemented that same system to empower it against emerging threats and ensure it remains both humane and effective.

It is also a spirit that guided Member States to set aside differences of perspective and agree on astrong Ministerial Declaration at this very Commission in 2019, an outcome document for the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, and the other important political commitments that came before. 

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has been, and continues to be, a partner to Member States in implementing their commitments, and in living up to the spirit that defines them.

That same spirit of shared responsibility should form the backbone of our responses to the world drug problem today, as we look to build on past successes and adapt to present needs.

The world needs it now more than ever before.

The growing complexities of the world drug problem impair our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in this challenging Decade of Action. The situation has only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The joint statement adopted by the Commission today, addressing the impact of the pandemic on efforts to counter the world drug problem, reflects the extent of the challenges we face. It also reflects the solidarity of Member States in facing them together.

The pandemic has brought about changes in drug trafficking and the illicit drug market as a result of mobility restrictions and related measures.

It has also increased vulnerabilities associated with negative coping mechanisms and risky behaviours.

In the shadow of the pandemic, opioids continued to claim more lives than any other drug, resulting in 69 percent of deaths related to drug use disorders.

The coverage and the quality of prevention, treatment, care, and rehabilitation services for drug use disorders, HIV, and related diseases have been hit by the crisis.

Such life-saving services must be brought up to the necessary standard, and brought to everyone in need of them, both during and after the pandemic.

Access to controlled substances for medical purposes has also been affected.

In countries with little or no access to controlled medicines, particularly low and middle-income countries, patients were often unable to receive medications for pain management even before the pandemic, and the crisis only made things worse.

Rising poverty and unemployment resulting from the crisis have also further deepened vulnerabilities.

More people are now without access to proper care, and at greater risk of drug use, and potentially more likely to turn to drug cultivation or trafficking in their desperation to earn a living.

The IMF estimates that global GDP contracted by 3.3 percent last year. Studies from the 2008 financial crisis show that in its aftermath, drug use patterns became more harmful, with a shift to cheaper drugs and injecting drug use, while government budgets to address the drug problem decreased.

We must be prepared to face similar challenges in the current crisis.

At UNODC, we have been assisting policymakers and providers of drug prevention, treatment and care, as well as HIV services, with capacity-building throughout the pandemic. We are also working with hundreds of grassroots NGOs offering critical services.

Together with WHO, UNODC has trained 10,000 professionals during the past year, who have then gone on to provide care for 67,000 people with drug use disorders in 28 countries.

Over four million families have benefited from UNODC packages to support parenting under COVID-19 for the prevention of drug use and violence.

UNODC’s Opioid Strategy brings together expertise from across the UN system for an innovative and comprehensive UN-wide response to the global opioids crisis.

The UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs, which was mandated by this Commission, has been accessed by 4,800 users in 151 countries and territories to date, providing them with a solid foundation to tackle the opioid crisis.

More than 1,000 new psychoactive substances have been reported to UNODC’s Early Warning Advisory from 127 countries, helping us to support Member States, the WHO, and other stakeholders in identifying the most dangerous substances and taking action before a crisis develops.

In addition, UNODC’s Laboratory provides scientific and forensic services to almost 300 laboratories in 80 countries, supporting the implementation of the scheduling decisions made by the Commission at the national level.

We must remain equally vigilant against developments in illicit drug markets and attempts to capitalize on new opportunities in the trafficking of controlled substances.

Through the Container Control Programme, UNODC and the World Customs Organization supported more than 65 countries in improving trade-supply security and border controls in 2020.

That support resulted in the seizure of more than 105 tons of cocaine, two tons of heroin, 685 kilos of cannabis and 1,108 tons of precursor chemicals for drugs and explosives, as well as falsified medical products, including COVID-19 test kits.

UNODC assistance through AIRCOP and the Global Maritime Crime Programme is further helping to safeguard licit trade while countering transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.

At the same time, we must continue equipping ourselves with the knowledge and information needed to meet emerging and shifting challenges.

The next edition of UNODC’s flagship World Drug Report is currently under preparation, and will be launched in June.

The report will provide an important outlook on the predicted evolution of drug markets post-COVID-19. It will also present the newest evidence on how cannabis is perceived by younger generations, and the risk associated with this perception.

The Annual Report Questionnaire, which informs the World Drug Report, is another vital tool of information, and a reflection of how we are stronger together.

The revised ARQ that was endorsed last year by the Commission will provide key data to monitor contemporary drug threats. UNODC will soon launch a modern and innovative web-based system for countries to more easily submit the ARQ. I hope that all Member States will live up to their commitment to report drug-related data.

Looking to the week ahead, your deliberations during this session will tackle some of the most pressing issues pertaining to the world drug problem.

The resolutions that have been tabled before the Commission for this session address topics of great importance, covering access to drug treatment, alternative development, and the need for data on non-medical use of pharmaceuticals.

I congratulate the Chair, and I wish you the best of luck in your discussions. I am confident that the Vienna spirit will prevail, as ever.

Unity is what brought about the international drug control system, and it will always represent its greatest strength.

Thank you.