Home > After UNGASS 2016.

Pike, Brigid (2016) After UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, pp. 10-11.

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UNGASS 2016 has been and gone. Held on 19–21 April in New York, it comprised not only the general assembly sessions but also over 40 side events, which were organised by individual member states, UN agencies and international NGOs.1


Two policy statements to emerge from the UNGASS process that are relevant to Ireland’s national drugs policy are described below. The language used and the points emphasised in the two papers differ, particularly in relation to demand reduction, supply reduction and human rights issues, reflecting the challenges of reaching a consensus among 28 European countries as opposed to some 200 countries from around the globe.2


EU common position

Ahead of UNGASS 2016, the European Union (EU) adopted a common position paper, which formed the basis for EU member states’ contributions.2 Grounded on two general principles – the need for an integrated, balanced and evidence-based approach and a sound public health approach – the nine-page position paper is broken into ten sections, listed below, which contain a total of 36 policy statements, some of which are noted here. 

  • International legal framework – there is ‘sufficient scope and flexibility within the provisions of the UN Conventions to accommodate a wide range of approaches to drug policy’;
  • Human rights – states parties are invited ‘to develop and implement, when appropriate, alternatives to incarceration and coercive sanctions applicable to persons having committed minor, non-violent drug-related offences’;
  • Role of civil society in formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating drug policies, ‘especially in the field of drug demand reduction’ is affirmed;
  • Demand reduction and related measures, including prevention and treatment ‘dependent drug users should be first and foremost considered as people in need of attention, care and treatment in order to improve their health and condition and enhance social integration, tackling marginalization and stigmatization’ and, in this context, states parties ‘should make sure that access to risk and harm reduction measures is guaranteed, as such measures have proved effective in reducing the number of direct and indirect drug-related deaths and notably blood-borne infectious diseases associated with drug use’;
  • Access and availability of drug demand reduction measures­ states parties are urged to ‘guarantee broad availability, coverage and access’ to drug dependence treatment for all members of society’;
  • Availability of controlled substances for medical and social purposes ­ ‘as regards psychoactive substances with proven legitimate medical or scientific use, a thorough and careful assessment is crucial before a decision is taken, with a view to avoiding undue restrictions on legitimate use of such substances’;
  • Supply reduction and related measures – covers drug trafficking, international cooperation, with particular attention the spreading and diversification of precursors chemicals;
  • Alternative development – to establish viable economic alternatives to prohibited cultivation of crops in source countries;
  • Drugs policy and children, youth and women reference is made to article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, asserting the need ‘to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances’, and differences in the ways men and women are affected by drugs and drug policies are acknowledged;
  • New challenges, threats and realities in preventing and addressing the world drug problem including new psychoactive substances and the role of new communication technologies. 

UNGASS outcome statement

Agreed by member states at 59th meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna in March 2016, this outcome document, entitled ‘Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem’, was adopted at UNGASS 2016.3 Having reaffirmed member states’ commitment to the three UN drug conventions and member states’ determination ‘to tackle the world drug problem and to actively promote a society free of drug abuse in order to help ensure that all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity and to address public health, safety and social problems resulting from drug abuse’, the 24-page outcome statement sets out a series of operational recommendations under seven headings.


Demand reduction and related measures, including prevention and treatment – under treatment, the document eschews use of the term ‘harm reduction’ but invites national authorities to consider ‘effective measures aimed at minimizing the adverse public health and social consequences of drug abuse, including appropriate medication-assisted therapy programmes, injecting equipment programmes, as well as antiretroviral therapy and other relevant interventions that prevent the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases associated with drug use’.


Availability of and access to controlled substances exclusively for medical and scientific purposes – focuses on improving processes for ensuring availability and access.


Supply reduction including law enforcement, drug-related crime, money laundering and judicial cooperation ­– as well as strengthening efforts to tackle international drug trafficking and its links to other forms of organised crime, the outcome statement calls on member states to strengthen multi-disciplinary measures to ‘promote comprehensive supply reduction efforts that include preventive measures addressing, inter alia, the criminal justice and socio-economic related factors that may facilitate, drive, enable and perpetuate organized crime and drug-related crime’.


Cross-cutting issues: human rights, youth, children, women and communities – along with nine recommendations regarding youth, children and women, the outcome statement discusses the need for proportionate and effective policies and responses in the criminal justice sector, in compliance with the provisions of the three UN drug conventions. Recommendations include  encouraging the development, adoption and implementation of ‘alternative or additional measures with regard to conviction or punishment of an appropriate nature’ and also promoting ‘proportionate national sentencing policies, practices and guidelines for drug-related offences whereby the severity of penalties is proportionate to the gravity of offences and whereby both mitigating and aggravating factors are taken into account’.


Cross-cutting issues in countering the world drug problem – this section contains 25 recommendations relating to new psychoactive substances, amphetamine-type stimulants, precursors, and the non-medical use of prescription drugs, as well as enhancing capacity to respond the evolving reality and emerging and persistent challenges and threats.


Strengthening international cooperation is to continue to be based on the principle of common and shared responsibility, strengthening assistance and enhancing cooperation between member states.


Alternative development­ – this section sets out the measures by which UN member states will address drug-related socio-economic issues related to the illicit cultivation of narcotic plants and the illicit manufacture and production and trafficking of drugs around the world.


Two reports – one by Ireland’s Department of Health and one by an international non-governmental organisation – assess what UNGASS 2016 achieved.


Ireland’s Department of Health

In its briefing to the incoming Minister for Health in May 2016, the Department of Health wrote:


The UN General Assembly held a Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs from 19th to 21st April 2016 in New York. This Special Session was an important milestone in achieving the goals in the policy document of 2009 ‘Policy Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem’ which defined action to be taken by Member States as well as goals to be achieved by 2019. An Outcomes Document, adopted by acclaim at the first plenary session, contained a series of operational recommendations to counter the world drug problem. It showed progress in agreeing language on proportional sentencing, the importance of evidence-based policies, gender mainstreaming, greater consideration of human rights aspects, new psychoactive substances/NPS, and in taking account of WHO resolutions.4


International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

IDPC is global network of 143 NGOs that focus on issues related to drug production, trafficking and use, promoting objective and open debate on the effectiveness, direction and content of drug policies at the national and international level, and supporting evidence-based policies that are effective at reducing drug-related harm. IDPC commented regarding UNGASS 2016:


Although the Outcome Document does include some good language on some points (such as access to essential medicines, development, overdose prevention and alternatives to incarceration), it could have been a very different document if the more progressive inputs had not been overlooked.


IDPC has compiled a document containing a selection of the ‘more strong, progressive and evidence-based language’, which had been on the table during the negotiations.5



1 Information retrieved 13 May 2016 https://www.unodc.org/ungass2016/

2 European Union (2016) Common position on UNGASS 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016 http://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016//Contributions/IO/EU_COMMON_POSITION_ON_UNGASS.pdf

3 Draft resolution submitted by the President of the General Assembly: Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem. 14 April 2016. E/CN.7/2016/L.12/Rev.1Retrieved 13 May 2016


4 Department of Health (2016) Departmental Brief for Minister May 2016 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25536/

5 Document retrieved 10 June 2016 https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/64663568/Press%20releases/UNGASS-shadow-declaration_FINAL.pdf

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 58, Summer 2016
August 2016
Page Range
pp. 10-11
Health Research Board
Issue 58, Summer 2016

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