The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs will take place in April 2016. The UNGASS will review progress toward achieving the goals of the 2009-2019 global drug strategy, and the limited availability of opioid analgesics in much of the world will be one of the topics on the agenda.
The problem of lack of access to essential medications for pain relief has left millions of people worldwide to suffer needlessly. The UNGASS is a major opportunity for the palliative care community to ensure that the UN acts to resolve this longstanding problem.
What is happening?
Preparations for UNGASS have already begun. The international community has decided that the UNGASS will adopt a “short, substantive, concise and action-oriented document comprising a set of operational recommendations…including…ways to address long-standing and emerging challenges in countering the world drug problem” (UNODC).
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is leading the process, has asked countries to submit their priorities for this outcome document by September 11, 2015.
What needs to happen?
There will be a number of other topics on the agenda, such as drug prevention and treatment, HIV prevention, drug-related crime, money laundering and international cooperation on criminal matters. These are bound to occupy a lot of time and discussion.
It is critical that the availability of controlled medicines gets the attention it needs and deserves. This is one area in which the international community should be able to come together in agreement.
To pave the way for pain relief to be available to all who need it, UNGASS should mandate the development of an action plan to address the limited availability of controlled medicines in much of the world.
The plan, to be developed by the World Health Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, International Narcotics Control Board, UN member states and civil society, should set specific objectives, commitments and measurements.
To achieve this, it is essential that as many countries as possible list the development of an action plan on controlled medicines as one of their priorities for the UNGASS.
What can you do?
It is critical to find out who the key decision makers in your country are and to brief them. International palliative care advocates have prepared a selection of excerpts from UN documents relevant to the UNGASS process, as well as recommendations and draft language for UNGASS 2016 Outcome Document on Controlled Medicines. These documents are designed to help you brief the government officials from your country who are involved in preparations for the UNGASS.
You can contact your health ministry, foreign ministry, drug control agency, interior/home ministry, justice ministry or other relevant authorities, to make sure that your country’s delegation includes the development of the action plan on controlled medicines as one of their priorities.
To find out who to approach, you can access this list of delegations to the 2015 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to help determine which ministries and officials from your country are likely to be involved in the UNGASS process.
Do you need more information?
For more information on the UNGASS, please see the following resources:
- the official UNGASS website; and
- the International Drug Policy Consortium’s website.
If you need any further information and want to discuss how best to engage your countries’ officials, please contact:
- Diederik Lohman at Human Rights Watch, who is co-ordinating the efforts with UNGASS, at email@example.com
- Stephen Connor, guiding the WHPCA response, at firstname.lastname@example.org.