Home > UN drugs policy under scrutiny.

Pike, Brigid (2006) UN drugs policy under scrutiny. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 18, Summer 2006, pp. 22-23.

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The first quarter of 2006 saw intense policy activity at international level. As UN drug bodies reported on the world drug control situation and considered policy options, international NGOs also offered their views.

A key event was the 49th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the central UN policy-making body dealing with drug-related matters, held in Vienna between 13 and 17 March.1 The Session developed proposals to strengthen the international drug control system and to reduce the demand for drugs.

In respect of the control of drugs and precursors, the CND Session passed resolutions calling for, among other things:

°          the use of alternative development programmes to reduce the cultivation of cannabis plants, especially in Africa

°          stronger systems for the control of precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs, including ecstasy, methamphetamine and amphetamine

°          the listing of ketamine as a controlled substance by member states.

In Ireland ketamine is authorised as a prescription drug by the Irish Medicines Board. The Board states: ‘If used on a daily basis for a few weeks, dependence and tolerance may develop, particularly in individuals with a history of drug abuse and dependence. Therefore the use of Ketamine should be closely supervised and it should be prescribed and administered with caution.’2

In response to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases among drug users, the CND Session passed a resolution calling for member states to:

°          adopt actions based on studies and research that demonstrate the efficacy and efficiency of drug-related treatment and prevention;

°          adopt drug-related health policies that facilitate prevention of drug abuse and access by drug users to different types of prevention, treatment and care for drug dependency, drug-related HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases;

°          enhance efforts to promote access to health and social care for drug users and their families without discrimination of any kind and, where appropriate, to co-operate with relevant non-governmental organisations;

°          provide access, as appropriate and in the framework of the pertinent national policies, to medications, vaccines and other measures that are consistent with international drug control treaties and have been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases among injecting and other drug users, under the supervision of the competent authorities or institutions.

While noting that the CND resolution does not mention access to sterile injection equipment, the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) notes that it does refer to recent decisions of the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) of the UNAIDS: ‘This could be interpreted as an endorsement of the June 2005 global HIV prevention paper adopted at the PCB, which supported access to sterile injection equipment.’3

The CND Session held a thematic debate on alternative development (AD) as a drug control strategy. Most countries agreed that AD should integrate demand reduction, health and education and sustainable development efforts as well as crop eradication and law enforcement activities, and that it should be evaluated in terms not just of illicit crop reduction but also of social, economic and human development indicators.1 In parallel with the CND Session, the Senlis Council, an international security and development think-tank, hosted the 7th International Symposium on Global Drug Policy: ‘Bridging Security and Development’. The Senlis Council is critical of AD programmes, arguing that crop eradication has destroyed whole communities and been ineffective in lowering production. The Council is calling for licensing schemes that would allow farmers to cultivate crops such as opium for medical use.4

With regard to the world drug situation, the CND’s deliberations were informed by the World Drug Report 2005, published in the weeks leading up the CND Session by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the UN international drug control conventions.5 The role of the INCB itself has come under close scrutiny. In February 2006 the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDPP), a UK-based project dedicated to providing a rigorous, independent review of global drug policy, published a report exploring whether the INCB is ‘watchdog’ or ‘guardian’ of the UN drug control conventions. It argues that, by becoming  guardian of the ‘purity of the conventions’ rather than watchdog, describing the situation and drawing attention to challenges and dilemmas, ‘the Board undermines its own authority, and runs the risk of being seen as irrelevant to the shifting challenges faced by national governments and municipal authorities in responding to the widespread use of illegal drugs.’6 On 1 March the Senlis Council announced its interest in the INCB, with the establishment of an expert panel to review its effectiveness. In anticipation of the upcoming review of global drug policy at the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2008, the Panel will present a series of recommendations for reform of the INCB at the 2007 CND Session in Vienna.4  

1. Commission on Narcotic Drugs (2006) Report on the forty-ninth session (8 December 2005 and 13–17 March 2006) Economic and Social Council Official Records 2006, Supplement No. 8. (E/2006/28; E/CN.7/2006/10.) http://www.unodc.org/unodc/index.html?ref=menutop

2. Irish Medicines Board  ‘Human Medicines: List of Human Authorised and Transfer Pending Products’. CRN 2021355, printed 24/3/2005.  www.imb.ie

3. International Harm Reduction Association (2006) ‘Commission on Narcotic Drugs - more support for harm reduction’. News Preview, 17 April 2006. 

4.  The Senlis Council renamed the International Council on Security and Development.

5. International Narcotics Control Board (2005) Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2005 (E/INCB/2005/1) www.incb.org

6. Bewley-Taylor D and Trace M (2006) The International Narcotics Control Board: Watchdog or Guardian of the UN Drug Control Conventions? Report 7. Oxford: Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme, February 2006. Viewed 1 June 2006 at www.internationaldrugpolicy.net 

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 18, Summer 2006
April 2006
Page Range
pp. 22-23
Health Research Board
Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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