UNGASS: Informal Scientific Network Hearing

This Informal Scientific Network Hearing represents an important follow-up to the first meeting that was held as part of the 58th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), in Vienna. Member States unanimously recognized, by approving the Resolution 58/7, the importance of the dialogue between the international and scientific community in dealing with the world drug problem. In line with the Resolution mandate, this meeting will gather scientists, nominated by Member States, and UNGASS delegates to review the latest statement generated by the Informal Scientific Network and to prompt a fruitful dialogue in support of mutual work on promoting scientific evidence in drug policy.

 

Dr Shekhar Saxena, WHO: We believe in the value of scientific advice and we wish this would hold a larger importance and that we could hold this event in a bigger room. Thank you for organising this event.

 

Ambassador Shamaa: The most important people are the scientists, not the diplomats. We are happy to have this event organised here today, and this is because we need to do a good work based on science. But we also need to listen to youth and exchange with the youth of today. It is a pleasure to address you all today in my capacity as Chair of the UNGASS board. Since December 2014, we have had the pleasure of working together with a range of people. In March of last year, we have had the chance the first time around to listen to the scientific community to try and find effective solutions to the problems related to drugs. Scientific research gives us the tools to ensure effectiveness and quality of supply and demand reduction strategies. There is still a large gap between knowledge and the actual practice. Science alone cannot make broad systemic changes, it needs to be disseminated and implemented to affect a change. The CND has demonstrated awareness for the fact that policies must be based on solid scientific evidence. The outcome document is our joint commitment to effectively counter the world drug problem and shows that we are willing to use evidence to solve issues through cooperation. I would like to conclude by saying that science is good and meaningful, and that it is important to continue to take scientific evidence into account in our processes and documents. However, what is science? We cannot just make statements, but we need to explain the meaning of the science we are working on. We also need to continue to consider the impact that policies would actually have in practice; what works empirically maybe needs to be adjusted to work similarly in the real work. We also need to take into account budgeting purposes; we are addressing the global public, where there are lots of developing countries, where affordability is an issue. Whatever tools can be made in theory need to be implemented in practice as well.

 

Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC: Thank you. The dialogue between scientists and policy makers provides an ideal platform to discuss care and treatment of drug dependence, as well as HIV and other comorbidities. Scientific evidence suggests that strength of dependence and use depends on many factors such as socio-economic, health and cultural factors, and yet people are still discriminated against for their use. We need to respect people as fellow human beings and help them gain access to the services they need. We are working towards the acceptance of drug use as a health issue and dependence as an illness. Scientific evidence needs to guide this discussion. Criminal sanctions should never be considered as a way to treat drug disorders. The dialogue with scientists can be crucial in implementing effective treatment programs as well as prevention programs in education and families. Science has also shown that drug disorders are treatable with the right care. Effective treatment strategies should be based on chronic care strategies. The unique needs of each individual should be taken into account. We need to take into account the public health and public safety. We need to provide guidance to decision-makers, medical staff and other people on how to best deal with this issue.

 

Russian Federation: Thank you for letting me address you here today. For the last two years, experts have exchanged scientific evidence on neurobiology, genetics, and other scientific fields on the subject of drug treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration, prevention and other relevant issues. In 2019 the political community will review the progress that we have made in the past few years and I hope that we will be able to look back on great steps we have made. Thank you.

 

Scientific Network Speaker: Thank you. We have been working in the network to summarize some of the most important points that have emerged in this field. I can summarize eight different conclusions that are based on six principles. Firstly, drug addiction is a brain disorder, drugs change how the brain functions, and addiction is a chronic condition and needs to be treated as such. The age of vulnerability for experimenting with drugs is childhood and adolescents, and we need to begin prevention work then. Thirdly, there are other factors that play a role than just exposure of drugs in determining who will become dependent. We know that factors such as environmental deprivation, mental illness etc. make people more vulnerable for dependence to both illegal and legal drugs. Fourth, addiction can be treated, and this should include medication as well as therapy and for comorbid illnesses, whether they are mental or physical. Fifth, social stress impacts the functions of the brain involved in our decision-making, and therefore criminalization will not help users but can actually make their disorder worse. Finally, treatment is actually cost-effective in comparison to incarceration. We need health services involved in treatment of drug users. In the US we have someone dying from opiate overdose every 20 minutes. There are huge costs to not taking care of users properly. Those are the six principles and my colleague will give you the eight recommendations.

 

Scientific Network Speaker: The first recommendation is to remove stigma around the issue of substance use so that it is further considered a biological disorder and that interventions can more directly impact this. Next, we need to address drug use as a public health disorder. Criminal justice is ineffective in discouraging or treating drug abuse. Third, we need to implement evidence-based prevention programs. Substance use disorders are preventable. This needs to be adopted on the socio-cultural climate of each country and international standards need to be implemented. Fourth, substance use disordered people should receive treatment by the general health system. Treatment needs to be affordable and culturally and gender-relevant. Fifth, scientific evidence need to drive policy processes and discussions. Sixth, engage diverse stakeholders in the discussion as this is a complex issue and many factors need to be addressed through education, criminal justice, health systems, etc. Seven, more research on drug-related issues needs to be supported so as to understand the brain and behavioural processes, the use trends, etc. Finally, we need to ensure access to scheduled medications for therapeutic use to alleviate human suffering. We need to achieve a balance between provision and control. Thank you.

 

Scientific Network Speaker: I am a scientist from China, and I will present the last part of this statement. Individuals with substance abuse disorders have a right to effective health promotion measures. Evidence has shown that prevention, identification and treatment are effective. Countries need to invest in health care to achieve these results. Criminal justice policies are not effective in achieving these goals and are a financial burden to states. The Scientific Network applauds the efforts of those parties involved such as the UNODC and the WHO.

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