Brand’s comments were made during a press conference held by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) at the UN in Vienna – a side event to the 2014 Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs being held this week to discuss the future of global drug policy.
Although the UN convention on drug regulation adopted in 1961 was created with the intention of protecting public health, over the years physicians have argued that access to essential pain medicines, including morphine and other opioid analgesics, has been ignored in favour of policies focused on law enforcement and the prohibition of illicit drugs.
Furthermore, processes to regulate the import of opioids have made it difficult for countries to correctly report the quantity of opioid analgesics needed in their country to the International Narcotics Control Board.
In response to a question from Jim Cleary, Director of the Pain and Policy Studies Group, who asked Brand to comment on the collateral damage caused by the ‘war on drugs’ on essential medicines, the comedian said: “That seems like yet another serious consequence of this war of drugs. Of course people need access to pain relief.”
“That’s another problem that could be eradicated by reviewing this global stance on drugs and adopting a stance of tolerance and compassion and humanitarian values that we agree with anyway. We already know the answer. I don’t know why we’re pretending we don’t know what to do,” he said.
Following campaigns from physician groups and hospice and palliative care associations, access to these medicines is becoming increasingly recognised by Member States and UN bodies as an essential element of global drug policy.
Speaking after Russell Brand, Mike Trace, Chair of the IDPC advocacy NGO who are calling for a shift in drug policy away from prohibition, said: “We are at the start of a journey to the United Nations summit in New York and one of the things we can make a massive difference to is the availability of essential painkilling medicines to people around the world. There is a lot of political support for this. There is possibility to improve it and it is something we should be ambitious about over the next few years.”