Monday, December 4

New Report: The Negative Impact of Drug Control on Public Health: The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain

Monday, 19 October, 2015 (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) –  The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) today released its third thematic report,  The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain: The Negative Impact of Drug Control on Public Health: at the 24th International Harm Reduction Conference (IHRC2015) taking place October 18-21  in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The report was launched by Commissioners, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss,

UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Michel Kazatchkine and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover.

Key conclusions of The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain are:

Ninety-two percent of the world’s supply of morphine is consumed by just 17 percent of the global population, with consumption primarily concentrated in the global north. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s population does not have access to any pain reliving drugs. That is to say, that most people, in late stages of cancers, enduring severe forms of acute or chronic pain, simply do not have access to pain relief, despite these medicines being included in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.

The reasons for this have little to do with issues of cost or scarcity of supplies- and everything to do with with the prohibition and repressive stand the world has taken on drugs. States are obsessed by the fear that people will use controlled medicines, such as morphine as drugs, thereby neglecting the important medical uses.

Former UN Secretary General and Global Commission member, Kofi Annan, highlights that ”under current drug control policies, African access to essential medication for pain management is highly restricted. We know that 90 percent of morphine is prescribed in North America and Europe. In many developing countries, patients with terminal cancer suffer needlessly because doctors cannot prescribe medication due to the misapplication or misunderstanding of the UN drug conventions. But we must make sure that access to the essential medicines on the WHO model lists does not become a casualty of the “war on drugs”. I hope that evidence-based decision making on drug policies will prevail.”

The provision of opioid substitution therapy (OST)  such as methadone and buprenorphine, which are also on the WHO List of Essential Medicines for people with heroin dependence, is similarly affected by this imbalance in the international drug control system and demonstrates the failure of the international drug control system. Former United Nations Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover noted that, “the most effective treatments for opiate dependence, are controlled, essential medicines, that if administered daily, reduce the craving for illicit drugs and enable people to lead a life of dignity”.

The upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs taking  place  in New York in April 2016, has several possible outcomes, with Former Brazilian president and Chair of the Global Commission, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, noting that “countries have a responsibility to ensure access to controlled essential medicines. The technical, medical and scientific tools exist, but there is a need for political will to end this avoidable pain.”

Guaranteeing the medical and scientific use of controlled medicines has been forgotten within current drug policies, but this can be corrected through the proper measures. “The international drug control system is broken, and human sufferance is not taken into consideration because of this imbalance,”said Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland. “The UNGASS provides a key opportunity where Member States can agree that ensuring access  to essential medicines is a priority and provide the proper resources and power to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to make it possible.”

The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain provides various recommendations:

  • Member States and UN bodies should harness the UNGASS on drugs in 2016 to acknowledge and forcefully address the major gap in access to controlled medicines, particularly opioids for pain relief.
  • States must recognize they have an obligation under international law to ensure equitable access to controlled medicines for their populations. This obligation has equal importance as drug control measures to reduce illegal diversion.
  • Priority must be given to expanding the spectrum of treatment for opioid dependence, while respecting human dignity and offering the possibility of prescription of controlled medicines such as methadone and buprenorphine.
  • Governments should provide the necessary funding for a renewed international program, overseen by the WHO, in partnership with the UNODC and the INCB.
  • There should be a review of the 1961 and 1971 drug conventions’ schedules in light of scientific evidence of the medical benefits of controlled substances, including cannabis.

Over the past five years, the Global Commission has strongly advocated for a change in the international drug policy agenda, redirecting the conversation away from prohibition to a more balanced and purposeful discussion. The Commission’s 2014 report broke ground by advancing and globalizing the debate over drug control measures and its alternatives, including regulation.

The Global Crisis of Avoidable Pain report is currently available in English, Spanish, Russian and Arabic and can be downloaded here. (

Global Commission on Drug Policy Members:

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, Ghana

Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canada

Pavel Bém, former Mayor of Prague, Czech Republic

Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)

Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs

César Gaviria, former President of Colombia

Anand Grover, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health

Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan

Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France

Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland

Richard Lagos, former President of Chile

Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria

George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece

Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal

George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)

Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , Spain

Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board

Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico