Special Event, 26th June – Launch of World Drug Report 2015 in New York

The launch of the World Drug Report was also held in New York on June 26. Simone Monasabien, Director of UNODC’s New York Office, moderated, opened with introductory remarks focusing on Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson’s commitment to the drugs issue and his comments that we must take the opportunity of UNGASS to “consolidate our approaches and integrate a range of perspectives on drug issues” and said that he has worked “tirelessly” to ensure that UNGASS fulfills its promise. Mr. Eliasson then delivered the keynote address. Calling the challenges of the world drug problem “immense” he discussed the problems of drug trafficking, especially in transit countries particularly in West Africa. He then turned his attention to alternative development, which “saves lives” but “cannot take place in isolation from good governance, as well as well-functioning markets, land titles, infrastructure and wider strategies for agriculture.” He then touched on the need for a fair criminal justice system, protection of vulnerable groups and marginalized communities, denouncing disproportionate penalties and long prison sentences for minor drug offences, and promoting health measures to prevent the spread of blood borne diseases. Finally he said that we must be “honest and brave” in accepting that some drug and sentencing policies may need to be reviewed, and that the “United Nations advocates a careful re-balancing of the international policy on controlled drugs” increasing the focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care as well as on economic, social and cultural strategies benefiting societies as a whole.”

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The video of the event is available here.

The next speaker was Jean Luc Lemahieu, Director of Policy, who discussed a peculiar point of history of June 26.  World Drug Day was set for June 26 in 1987, but history is more colorful. Going back 175 years ago to China, the date was symbolically commemorating efforts taken by Chinese government, specifically, Lin Zexu, scholar and Governor General of Hunan and Hubei in 1837, whose aim was to end the Chinese opium trade. In 1839 he seized 12,000 tons of opium, amounting to the first efforts towards the war on drugs, though it was not declared until 1973 by Richard Nixon. He also discussed the focus of the WDR being on public health and alternative development.

Thomas Pietschmann, of the Studies and Threat Analysis branch of UNODC and one of the key authors of WDR, then presented the report focusing on drug use in prisons, risk for people who inject drugs to contract HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, deaths by overdose of opiates, gender issues, effectiveness of various interventions, supply issues and seizures, NPS, and alternative development. The presentation is available on the World Drug Report website.

DSG Eliasson cut in to make final comments before he had to leave for another engagement. – He said, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing the facts” – noting that we have been provided with some very interesting facts relating to drug use in prisons, quarter of a billion using drugs, high percentage of high risk users, importance of seeing the drug issue in its wider perspective – we MUST analyze where the problem is and see where we need to take action. Need to deal with it in a more comprehensive way. This discussion underlines how important UNGASS is recognizing the facts to deal with this very difficult problem. Can’t look at it as happening in Geneva, Vienna, NY – we must work on this together “as a family”.

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Jean Luc made some further points:  1. global data collection is not as robust as it could be, but based on the data we have we’re seeing that drug abuse is stable over time. 2. Prevention and treatment do work when correctly designed. 3. We saw that men are 3x more likely to use methamphetamine than women, but only 1 in 5 people in treatment are female. We aren’t dealing with it in a balance manner. 4. Demand has been stable due to domestic speculation. Have to appreciate the complexity of the issue. 5. Supply creates demand just like demand creates supply. 6. Within prisons use rates are higher – this shows that the highest walls will not stop drugs to enter. Law enforcement is necessary but can never be the final solution. Need for balanced approach. 8. Alternative Development must be a long term continued approach. Supply reduction must gradually move forward. 9. AD by itself is insufficient to deal with the issue. Not all poor farmers cultivate opium and not all opium farmers are poor. Not just about reaching out to poor farmers. Rule of law / justice systems go hand in hand. 10. Comprehensive view – indicators for AD cannot only be decline in acreage of illicit crops – need to build up social safety networks, must wider range of benchmarks.

The floor was then opened for interventions from the audience.

Portugal (Amb. Mendosa) – A number of findings in report must be duly highlighted – 7 of them stood out: 1. element the vast majority of problem drug users have no access to treatment. 2 – a number of social barriers continue to affect the access to treatment. 3 – almost half of the 27 million problem drug users inject drugs and 1.6 million live with HIV. 4 – unacceptable number of premature deaths from overdose is a problem. 5 – drug in prison is common. 6 – drug dependence is a chronic health condition that requires long term and continued treatment. 7 – prevention can be effective if it addresses issues concerning children and young people. These issues reveal the tremendous challenges ahead of us that UNGASS must be able to address. Portugal’s fully committed to tackling WDP. He briefly shared some national indicators from Portugal from latest data: 1 – Almost all drugs show decrease in lifetime prevalence and decrease in continuing rates of use. 2 – Portugal drug use continues to be below EU average.  3 – analysis by gender shows that lifetime prevalence and recent use are higher for men. Men are higher risk than women. 4 – consumption in the female group increased between 2007 – 2012, contrary to general pattern (men at higher risk but increase higher with women). 5 – decline of problematic users, mainly by reduction of IDU. 6 – infectious diseases, downward trend in numbers infected with HIV, because of the direct impact of harm reduction measures. These indicators are based on a health and evidence based approach – very much support what the DSG said about wisdom. Wisdom starts with facing the facts (as DSG said). Drug addiction should be treated as disease, dependent users treated with healthcare. Stigmatization should be decreased, social reintegration, reducing harm caused by drug use. This has been our policy for more than a decade, but we don’t see it as white or black, it has functioned well in Portugal, but we still keep a very close eye on drug trafficking especially with international crime.

Bahamas (Amb. Ramming) – I speak for all of Caricome when I say that the scourge of drugs has had a deleterious effect on our small states for decades. Sapped human capital, exasperated crime violence, etc. One observation worthy of note this morning is the tendency of reports like this to focus on supply and distribution, less on consumption. Classic case of Chicken vs. the egg, which comes first? Which truly drives the drug economy? I argue both. But if we can reduce consumption, less incentive to produce. Notion of alternative economic development holds promise. Unreasonable to remove a viable source of income and replace with nothing. AD must be devised for producing, transit and consumption countries. Again I commend UNODC for this excellent report that reminds us that the fight goes on. We have a new weapon in our arsenal in the form of AD. Bahamas stands firmly with UNODC.

Honduras (Amb. Flores) – culture and economy of illegal drugs affects countries that strive to obtain peace. Human rights, justice and rule of law are slight or nonexistent. According to the WDR 2015, drugs affect the level and processes to achieve sustainable development.  Data present at the global level reveals a small change in overall effect which is the biggest obstacle. Undertaking inadequate strategies can further erode governance… continued impacts on health, limited access to treatment for women around the world. Honduras and its population have suffered enormous human losses and regress in growth and development serving as bridge between producers and consumers of illicit drugs. Our security has been our priority and homicides have been significantly reduced, which was recognized by the Secretary General and UNODC. To sustain efforts, Member States must convene common policies under design of shared, common but differentiated responsibilities. Which In light of the obstacles can be useful tools that can empower and transform societies. The global frameworks we are subscribing to – all individuals that want to grow and live in spaces of order, respect and dignity, cannot be a straightjacket that can impede or become an obstacle to sustainable gains in overcoming the negative impacts of the drug culture. We must revise and redesign failed strategies and commit to a comprehensive and effective approach that is flexible, adaptable to innovation, science and technology… all sectors should be responsible and accountable to create a healthier environment for youth and future generations. Only by empowering and contributing to the well-being of each individual and our co-nationals who need to be partners with governments, they can create welfare for themselves and others. In light of the future we hope to keep working with UNODC, MS, int’l orgs, incorporating programs so that we can make a better future.

US (Rick Williams) – The WDR focus on AD is particular helpful as world leaders focus on UNGASS. The UNGASS is the first summit level meeting on this topic since 1998. UNODC’s efforts to hi lite the gaps in treatment are critical as MS examine the 2009 Political Declaration. The UN Conventions have served as our framework and MS should continue to find better ways to implement it. Promote rule of law … input from a wide array of sources provide an external view – UNGASS will be the most active discussion with active participation of NGOs. US views the UNGASS … welcomes the shift towards public health approach as well as reaffirm the 3 Conventions. In the past 18 months there have been numerous events, debate has been wide ranging with active participation of CS and academia. We want tangible practical opportunities for MS. Our work around sentencing reform is an example of how we share practices. NPS also an example. 6 areas – 1. Public health and, 2. Criminal justice, [3?] 4. Drug supply and AD, 5. Access to meds, 6 NPS. We look forward to everyone during the preparations in Vienna and in UNGASS.

Italy (Judge Marini) – new report presents wide range of analysis on drugs. A couple of points – treatment of women and juvenile offenders is a very sensitive and must be addressed practically, not ideologically. Criminal intervention must be focused on organized crime, not abusers. We are confident that Human rights issues will be addressed in post-2015 agenda and at the UNGASS. Problems like access to meds as well. Thank you for providing the basis for the future of our consideration.

V__3E1E(2)CS Intervention 1 – Heather Haase, Co-Chair of CSTF. Thank you Madame Chair for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important event. I am speaking in my capacity as Co-Chair of the Civil Society Task Force on Drugs, along with my colleague Elisa Rubini, from the Vienna NGO Committee. The Civil Society Task Force looks forward to reviewing the World Drug Report in the coming days and we appreciate the effort to provide what we expect will be acomprehensive and balanced report about the world drug problem that will inform all discussions in the lead up to CND and the UNGASS. The CSTF is designed to secure civil society engagement and coordination in order to effectively include NGO voices in the UNGASS. The Vienna NGO Committee and the New York NGO Committee have overseen the composition of the CSTF, aiming for an overall balance in terms of both geography and approaches to drug policies and interventions. The CSTF is not ultimately looking to come to consensus on all issues, but rather is tasked with and committed to providing a channel for civil society to share views and expertise in a comprehensive way – a platform where all the voices are heard. We can also work toward identifying key priority issues and/or areas that deserve the utmost attention, and highlight these areas with one voice. It is critical that the collective voices of civil society be engaged and we call on Member States to consider our contribution to developing the priorities in the drugs field, based on significant expertise and experience at the community level. Based on our past experience and the Declaration that civil society agreed to in Beyond 2008, a number of priorities have emerged that we believe should be given priority by Member States. We expect a more comprehensive list will follow as we work together as a Task Force. These are:

  • Abolition of the Death Penalty and support for the principle of proportionality for drug related offences;
  • The adoption of a public health approach to the world drug problem based on the WHO definition, “Public Health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole”;
  • Development of prevention strategies, in particular those that protect the rights of children;
  • A renewed commitment to the availability and financial sustainability of equally important and mutually reinforcing evidence-based harm reduction, voluntary drug treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation measures, which are under threat in many parts of the world due to economic constraints;
  • Urgent, focused action led by WHO to address the global problem of lack of access to essential controlled medicines for pain relief, palliative care, and opioid dependence treatment;
  • Sustainable development opportunities for those currently involved in the cultivation of crops used to produce illicit drugs, and putting an end to conditioning their inclusion in alternative development projects on prior eradication of these crops; and
  • Engagement of all of civil society, including people who use drugs, people in recovery, families and communities, will provide an added value to the UNGASS.

There are of course other areas where civil society holds differing viewpoints. The diversity of the CSTF fosters dialogue and can serve as a platform to encourage respectful exchange, share evidence-informed best practices, and provide constructive criticism of policies and programs that work or could be improved. In order to create this platform, and bring in the diversity and richness of the voices of all members of civil society around the world, we will need the support of Member States. Financial support by Member States is critical. Just as important is facilitation of civil society participation through inclusion in meetings and discussions leading up to UNGASS as well as the UNGASS itself. Specifically, we are asking that Member States supporta one-day interactive civil society hearing to be held in New York at least three months prior to the UNGASS (similar to those held in connection with recent high level meetings on HIV/AIDS, migration, Non-communicable diseases, and the post-2015 development agenda), with a President’s Summary to be circulated to Member States and other stakeholders in preparation for UNGASS. We also call on Member States to support civil society representation on discussion panels at UNGASS and their invitation to make interventions from the floor during interactive discussions at UNGASS and during its leadup. We are counting on you, the Member States, to make meaningful and effective participation in UNASS 2016 possible for all of civil society.

[Simone thanked the VNGOC and NYNGOC for all their hard work in putting together the CSTF]

CS Intervention 2 – Helen Redmond – I want the war on drugs to end. I work with drug users and teach a course on human rights and drug policy and I want the war to end. Global Commission on Drug Policy put out a report last year called “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work” – putting governments in control of drugs. That’s what we’re talking about, putting the power back in the hands of governments.

Who’s on the commission? Presidents, ex-presidents… Kofi Anan, and he wants an end to the war on drugs. In this remarkable report, which I recommend that all Member States read between now and UNGASS, calls for the massive expansion of drug treatment (such as in Portugal), including methadone and buprenorphine – and Russia, a country that outlaws meth, that is criminal. Legalizing syringe exchange, treatment on demand like Portugal has, and onsite injection center. So these are some of the very pragmatic things that this crucial report calls for and this is what we want to see, an end to the drug war.

Simone gives floor to Jean Luc for last comments – Jean Luc – centering with public health – need to calibrate around balance to make sure we get the interventions right. Consumption, production and transit nature of countries – far more muddles if you look at countries such as Afghanistan has the highest incidence of drug abuse, traditionally transit only but now affect by very high problematic use. Opium cultivation has seen magnificent boost in production but not because of boost in demand. To Civil Society – welcome to get your voices heard, we have taken note of the very rich variety of opinions that exist and hope that they all get the platform you are seeking, and reiterate the need to provide the necessary financial support to you so you can carry this work forward.

WP_20150626_002Myanmar (Ye Minn Thein, Counsellor) – Commend UNODC for report. We signed a landmark agreement with UNODC to collaborate on strengthening the rule of law. Would welcome more technical assistance and effective methods to deal with this issue. Principle of shared responsibility by means of enhanced and better coordinated technical assistance are needed in order to tackle the global challenges in a more comprehensive manner. Root causes of this issue in our country – Geographic barriers make it difficult for transportation, other vegetables are harder to grow than the poppy or are harder to get to markets. Poverty, shortage of food, poor general knowledge, poppy fetches more income than anything else, lack of enforcement and law and order. Government have recognized these factors and have taken them into account in its development projects. Would like to draw attention of the audience that law enforcement have seized various types of drugs this year and held a ceremony and burned drugs today – heroin, opium, meth, tablets, worth USD 155M– in order to mark the World Drug Day. In conclusion, monitoring poppy plantations – using effective methods to destroy poppy plants, etc.  are necessary. Cooperation between local communities, CSOs, enforcement agencies, necessary as well, but also requires for the international community’s support and practical support in various forms by the relevant international organizations comprehensively.

Simone closed event – shared responsibility and cooperation is necessary in order to improve conditions on the ground to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

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