Access to controlled medications included in key UN document

Categories: Policy.

CND was mandated by the UN General Assembly to produce an action-oriented resolution to be recommended for adoption at the plenary of the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem to be held in New York from 19-21 April this year.

The document: ‘Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem’ includes, for the first time, a full section on access to medicines which is titled: ‘Operational recommendations on ensuring the availability of and access to controlled substances exclusively for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion.’

It includes an assessment of the achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem, within the framework of the three international drug control conventions and other relevant United Nations instruments. It includes a recognition of the importance of the “health and welfare of humankind” in the introduction and throughout the document.

According to the document, UN Member States: “note with concern that the availability of internationally controlled drugs for medical and scientific purposes, including for the relief of pain and suffering, remains low to non-existent in many countries of the world, and … highlight the need to enhance national efforts and international cooperation at all levels to address that situation by promoting measures to ensure their availability and accessibility for medical and scientific purposes, within the framework of national legal systems, while simultaneously preventing their diversion, abuse and trafficking, in order to fulfil the aims and objectives of the three international drug control conventions.”

In the past, issues of access to controlled medicines were included briefly under the theme of demand reduction. It is due to tireless efforts by palliative care advocates that there is a detailed stand-alone section on this issue.  

The document includes specific reference to overcoming existing barriers, training of healthcare professionals, benchmarking, and providing financial assistance to lower-income countries.

It recognises that there is a need for technical assistance for countries with low consumption of controlled medicines for medical and scientific purposes. Expertise exists within the palliative care community to provide such assistance.

Stephen Connor, Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance Executive Director, said: “The inclusion of a focus on access to controlled substances for medical and scientific use in this document is a huge step forward for those of us who are working to achieve balance between access and prevention of misuse.

“Up to now all the focus has been on preventing misuse with little attention to the legitimate need for controlled substances for medical use. The International Narcotics Control Board itself has noted that 75% of people worldwide have little or no access to pain relief. Let us hope that this document signals a major change in the persisting problem globally of unnecessary suffering.”

You can find out more on the CND website.