UNGASS: Ensuring the availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion

Statement by H.E. Mr. Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services, Norway, on roundtable one: Demand reduction and related measures, including prevention and treatment, as well as health-related issues, including HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, 19 April 2016.

Ministers, Excellences, panellists – ladies and gentlemen,

Health is central to human welfare. Good health, however, is not limited to individual wellbeing and absence of illness. It also makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer and are more productive.

Thus, the rewards of emphasizing the right to health should be evident - also when it comes to drug policies.

UNGASS is meant to review progress made, and to identify achievements, challenges and priorities for further action. We have to admit that we still are far from sufficiently handling the World Drug Problem.

All tells us that we need political will and action to critically examine our approach, and stress the need to strengthen a health-oriented perspective.

Putting humans, health and welfare at the heart of drug policies has consequences. It demands an effort to reflect on key elements that underpin national and international drugs policy.

To reach a sufficient balancing of health and control, we need a broader recognition that the perspective of public health and human rights is essential to limiting the problematic use of and demand for drugs.

Harm reducing measures are still insufficiently recognized as essential to handling the problems caused by narcotic drugs. Within a balanced approach, harm reduction has an important role in limiting the harm from using illegal drugs. It is a tool to help drug users achieve abstinence. It should as well prevent the spread of diseases – which can also affect the non-drug using population.

Harm reduction is a set of tools and an approach, but not sufficient in itself. Helping drug users from harmful substance use requires access to drug treatment, rehabilitation and support.

Investment in these areas is a key component of our drug policy, helping those burdened by drug addiction to achieve a better life without drug abuse and its adverse consequences.

Poverty, drug use and ill health are strongly interlinked, and marginalized groups are often less likely to enjoy good health. The new Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework to tackle poverty and poor health, and are thus an important approach to tackle the world drug problem.

The core value of demand reduction is the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. We cannot then tolerate the fact that millions of people suffering from severe pain are not taken care of, although there are effective, inexpensive and available treatments.

Huge gaps exist between countries when it comes to vital access to controlled substances for medical purposes. In addition, these substances are essential for scientific purposes.

Affordable and reliable medicines are further of great importance related to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and affordability is central to the work. Fortunately, the bulk of these are no longer patented and are available at very low cost.

Furthermore, there are important fears and prejudices we need to overcome. These fears and prejudices relate to mental health disorders and end of life situations.

Access is a key area when addressing the world drug problem. To close existing gaps, close cooperation between the WHO and UNODC is required, as well as strong and coordinated commitment by governments, in particular as regards health and justice authorities.

Thank you.