Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to join you today to commemorate the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and to launch the 2021 edition of UNODC’s flagship World Drug Report.
We are at a critical juncture, as the world continues to deal with the pandemic and its impact on health and livelihoods, while taking determined steps towards recovery.
Effective measures must be based on evidence, and solutions backed by science.
Earlier this year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted an important joint declaration on the effects of the COVID crisis on the world drug problem, reflecting your determination to learn the lessons of the pandemic, and keep pace with evolving challenges.
The World Drug Report has an important contribution to make to this response.
It will equip policymakers and practitioners with facts to inform action towards balanced drug control and better health for all.
Perhaps the most important of these facts is the devastating and undeniable impact of drug use on the lives of people everywhere.
Over half a million people died in 2019 as a result of drug use. In the same year, more than 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders.
Liver diseases and HIV continue to be prevalent among people who use drugs, particularly those who inject them.
All the while, more and more people are using drugs; the number of people who used drugs reached 275 million in 2019.
Based on demographic factors alone, the rise in drug use is projected to continue worldwide, and particularly in low-income countries.
Facts should act as the starting point for our responses to drug-related challenges.
It is a fact that only one in eight people with drug use disorders receive adequate treatment, and that women have unequal access to such treatment.
We need to scale up services, ensure that they are available to everyone equally, and integrate them into healthcare delivery systems.
It is a fact that opioids represent a growing danger; overdose deaths have doubled over the past decade in North America, and Africa continues to grapple with the non-medical use of tramadol.
We must improve drug treatment, care, and emergency services, and halt illegal manufacturing, including through stronger precursor control.
It is a fact that cannabis has multiplied in potency and consequently in potential harm over the last few years, particularly in Europe as well as in North America, where potency has quadrupled in less than 15 years.
Yet, teenagers in those same places are unaware of the dangers, with the percentage of adolescents perceiving cannabis as harmful declining significantly.
We have a collective responsibility to keep the public informed about drug use, and to make sure we protect young people from harm.
It is also a tragic fact that patients with serious illnesses suffer unnecessary pain because they lack access to controlled medicines, particularly in poorer countries where the majority of the world’s population lives.
In 2019, four standard doses of controlled pain medication were available every day for every one million inhabitants in West and Central Africa, in comparison to 32,000 doses in North America.
I urge governments to heed the call jointly issued by UNODC, WHO, and INCB last year, and remove barriers to controlled medicine for those in need around the world, including patients of COVID-19.
The World Drug Report has also revealed new realities caused, accelerated, or highlighted by the pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis has contributed to shifts in drug use and drug markets, some of which may carry forward for years to come.
Economic and social hardships have created conditions more conducive to both drug use and illicit cultivation, while contactless methods for drug sales and delivery have become more common.
At the same time, the pandemic has prompted innovation in treatment and prevention to reach people across distances, yielding promising results that merit further exploration.
Using our growing evidence base as a foundation, UNODC is supporting Member States to address the challenges related to drug use and trafficking.
In 2020, UNODC provided technical assistance on effective and humane drug treatment services to 28 countries, reaching 67,000 people with drug use disorders, including children, women, and pregnant women.
Our Office also supported countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia in providing comprehensive HIV and Hepatitis C prevention and treatment services, including in prison settings.
Concurrently, UNODC worked to assist Member States in curbing drug supply.
Active in over 70 countries, our Container Control Programme enables countries to make major drug seizures, including a shipment of over 4,000 kilograms of cocaine, seized in Panama this year.
We also supported countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in drafting drug control legislation and strategies.
Our Lab continued to provide scientific assistance to almost 300 national laboratories.
In parallel, we remained committed to promoting alternative livelihoods, supporting coffee production as a substitute for illicit crop cultivation in Bolivia, Lao, and Myanmar in 2020.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
The findings of the World Drug Report should continue to inform our efforts and policies. They should also prompt us to do more to reduce supply and demand for drugs, and to support health.
This Commission leads the way for effective international drug control, prevention, and treatment.
I call on you to keep pushing forward global efforts for balanced drug control, based on evidence and science.
Using the World Drug Report and its data as a basis, UNODC will continue to be a partner to the CND and to all Member States in sharing facts on drugs, in order to promote health, ease hardship, and save lives.