UN to Consider Policies for Improved Access to Controlled Medicines to Relieve Pain and Suffering

Apr 5, 2016

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs has adopted an “outcomes document” to be presented to representatives of member states who will attend UNGASS, the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem, scheduled for April 19-21 in New York City.

Importantly, the document, “Our Joint Commitment to Effectively Addressing and Countering the World Drug Problem,”  relies largely on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for this new drug control text.

Throughout a ten-day session in Vienna, delegates worked intensively to fashion consensus language on ways to recalibrate the unbalanced relationship between law-enforcement and public-health models of drug policy. The resulting document reflects these perspectives and bodes well for a positive learning process for countries that until now have given little or no consideration to the issue of controlled medicines.

Member-state delegations agreed that they need to learn more about ways to improve the availability of controlled medicines, given their particular contexts. Indeed, the document’s introduction “notes 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 nonexistent in many parts of the world.” It became clear to many in attendance that their key advocates in such efforts will be physicians, nurses, and others in civil society.

The agreed-upon language draws heavily on the data and recommendations in the 2015 Annual Report Supplement of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and on discussions about implementation proposed by civil society partners who had been corresponding with one another and with member states for the past year.

The operational section of the outcomes document contains six paragraphs with recommendations for action, including collaborations between government, civil society, and UN agencies such as WHO, the Office on Drugs and Crime, and INCB to remedy the low availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

These paragraphs cover the need to:

  • simplify and streamline regulatory and legal systems
  • strengthen the overall regulatory framework to minimize diversion and abuse, remove barriers, and provide technical assistance
  • expedite the issuance of import-export licenses
  • address affordability and training and expand prescribing to appropriately trained and qualified professionals
  • provide assistance with capacity building and training, including with pharmacists, on rational use
  • develop national supply management systems for effective procurement
  • continue to update WHO model lists of essential medicines and support the WHO Expert Committee on Narcotic Drugs

Member states will only be able to begin to implement these laudable recommendations if they engage with civil society at all levels—from the local to the global. The International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care and IASP are committed to working with partners at all these levels to develop strategies that will promote rational prescription and consumption of controlled medicines to relieve pain and suffering.

-- Katherine Pettus, PhD, Advocacy Officer, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care