Side Event: Aligning data collection with UNGASS implementation & the Sustainable Development Goals: Recommendations for a review of the Annual Report Questionnaire.

Organized by the Governments of Canada, Mexico and Switzerland, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, and the Global Drug Policy Observatory of Swansea University

Vera Strickler (Switzerland): To analyse key trends on the global drug market it is crucial to have reliable and empirical based indicators that are in line with the UNGASS document. In the past, Switzerland has been supportive for the UN systems, and I am glad we can write the topic today.

Isaac Morales (Mexico): On the topic, it’s essential to have such concrete and action oriented debate. Since UNGASS 2016, the government of Mexico has been committed to developing the mechanisms to better data collection, better in statistics and indicators, and international drug policies and programmes. I believe it is so important for the purpose of this recommendation to review the ARQ, and three elements; data collection, statistics, indicators part of a whole chain. For the Government of Mexico, ARQ improvement focuses on UNGASS implementation and SDG’s.

 Over the past two years across seven regions, and as a resultof plural exercise with national authorities, legislators, and experts from civil society and academia, we have created a metric with more than 100 recommendations for the 2016 UNGASS outcome document. To each of those recommendations, we lead an alternative – then find a leading alternative for each recommendation. With the support of the rest of the authorities and sectors, we have developed the level of maturity in the programmes, asking questions such as is it already implemented? Or should it be implemented and at what point in the future? Asking these questions is the best way to capture what we call a comprehensive and balanced approach.

It is important that the ARQ is not enough, the number of eradicated areas, albeit are important, but not solely for the communities affected by illicit cultivation. We have consolidated better data collection processes among sector actors, for example among different authorities and different reporting structures. Regarding the SDG’s, we have spent a great amount of effort and negotiation power for CND documents recognising that drug policy and the complimentary agenda are reinforcing. We do need to go into action in this regard, I can share with you that the new Government in Mexico created a national commission on the implementation of the national agenda. The commission will be in charge in the follow up of the SDG’s, and the commission will adopt a layered approach that will integrate all the national authorities with civil society representatives, the private sector and legislators. All local governments are now obligated to report in a similar formula, also drug policy efforts have to contribute to the efforts to accomplish the SDG’s, this alignment thinks more about sustainable goals and indicators.

We need to further identify key indicators for drug policy and programmes on human rights, poverty etc. It is challenging, as the line is very thin when reporting from drug policy issues to human rights issues, or from poverty to health. Such difference establishes a core need for clear indicators. We need to find a way to also review duplication of efforts, data and report. We are working with the National statistic institution to find this data and shortage. I wish to recommend regional experience through CICAD, the evaluation mechanism, and building to a robust format, more so than the ARQ, and with the support to better evaluate drug policy. I’d like to conclude with stating our close cooperation with Mexico UNODC, we have been bringing to the statistical commission the need for improving data statistics, and of course it has not been an easy process because of politics from our point of view, but this discussion must be more so technical and less political.

Michelle Boudreau (Canada): We must look towards the creation of a data framework, that is effective and reaching into communities. Improvement illustrated in data release with greater finesse, illuminating which populations are most being affected? What age groups? Focus on this population and area of work in which men are most engaged.

Sex, gender and equality in the SDG (Consumption sites) which have been operating with regard to sex and gender, provide consideration of peer injection and concern that women are being isolated from these consumption sites which did not allow peer injection. Women are more affected by peer injection (smaller veins, power imbalance, potential for violence), and there is need for closer scope of what could be done to address such. The pilot project which formed in a data collection process measures multiple components such as gender, and where is the point in which women can gain inclusiveness. I wish to conclude: ARQ, the more we find data, the more we can aggregate it at the national and international level also.

Paul Griffiths (EMCDDA): There is of course importance of a political and ARQ communication, yet it is equally important to understand the differences that lie between the two. The ARQ has been revised twice in the last twenty years, the data isn’t showing a clear result, many countries do not report at all, and some countries that are reporting are weak on demand side of data and responses, the data exists from countries that have developed data systems.

When looking to the future, many issues are suffered in lower-income countries in terms of the retrieval of data. It is therefore very important to create tools to ensure countries are assisted. We seek to streamline practices, and ensure data is less of a burden, yet instead more comprehensive and more additional information is meeting today’s needs. There are of course many issues that are politically sensitive which may affect the willingness of some nations to report. Drug situations changes very dynamically, and we are alike in the process of change.

It is important we do not look to the past and but instead use these new methods that integrate coherence, national reporting across these areas which reduce reporting burden. Lack of resources, and form for proper debate at the union level, how do we technically put things in line and look for coherent approaches? I was inspired by a technical meeting which looked at the start of the ARQ, and what that meeting give out was that we needed an ARQ fit for purpose and fit for all, it needed to represent countries at different levels of development. As an expert from where we have good communications, often the voices we hear are from those in developed systems, we tend to be insensitive and resist the countries which do not have the same structural systems.

What’s the way forward? The ARQ is important, it’s a form, capacity building must be a key element, if a country does not have a capacity to build, you have very little to do with the form. There is a need for Technical and political expertise to be speaking together. Most importantly, sustainability, which will only happen if countries value data collection processes at national up to international level. Responses at the ground must head up. The way forward, a modular approach linked to capacity building, we need to look at the national level and finally incorporation of flexibility and changing circumstances, so for the future ARQ must ensure flexibility to better address future demands.

Marie Nougier (IDPC): In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of discussion in Vienna around the need to review the ARQ. This is also a question that has been very much discussed on the civil society side, including by IDPC, but also other NGOs such as the Global Drug Policy Observatory, the Social Science Research Council, the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, CELS and others.

As many of you may already know, IDPC recently produced a Shadow Report entitled ‘Taking stock: A decade of drug policy’. Although the objective of the report was to look back at the past decade of UN drug control, we also took the opportunity to look forward, and to provide recommendations for the next ten years of drug policy. And one of the issues we particularly focused on was that related to data collection and the Annual Report Questionnaire.

When we started working on the IDPC Shadow Report and looked into the data available on global drug policy, we reached two main conclusions. Firstly, most data collected via the current ARQ focuses on measuring the overall scale of the illicit drug market. But there is a need for more thorough research and data collection on the broader impacts of drug policies on protecting health, human rights, security and development. These are the overarching objectives of the United Nations – which have been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals – and drug policies should aim to contribute to those key objectives. Although there may be value in measuring the scale of the illicit drug market, evaluating whether there has been a reduction in illicit drug demand and supply is certainly not enough. The new thematic areas of the UNGASS Outcome Document on access to controlled medicines, human rights, women, children and youth, and on development, also require that progress be tracked against these operational recommendations in the revised ARQ.

The identification of better indicators aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would enable member states to truly measure progress made in drug control to improve the health and wellbeing of humankind.

And this is exactly what we have attempted to do in the IDPC Shadow Report. There, we have taken each chapter of the UNGASS Outcome Document, as well as each target and indicator included in the 17 SDGs, and we have adapted the most relevant SDG targets and indicators to drug policy, linking each and every one of them to a specific operational recommendation of the UNGASS Outcome Document. I will only mention three examples here:

My first example relates to UNGASS Chapter 2 on access to controlled medicines. This is an area that is currently not covered at all in the current ARQ. There, it may be possible to measure progress against SDG Target 3.8 on universal health coverage, access to quality essential healthcare services and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. Specific indicators could include:

  • Process indicators whereby Legislation or regulations to improve access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes (e.g. making the substances more available, reducing the requirements to prescribe, or for pharmacies to obtain prior licences to dispense medicines)
  • Number of pharmaceutical establishments that can dispense opioids for pain management per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Proportion of medical and nursing schools providing palliative care and pain management training in their curriculum.
  • Also outcome indicators such as the proportion of people suffering from moderate to severe or chronic pain receiving controlled medicines, disaggregated by sex and age.

My second example relates to supply reduction and related measures included in Chapter 3 of the UNGASS OD, in particular the objective of reducing drug-related crime and violence in affected areas (enshrined in para 3.a of UNGASS OD). This is very much linked to the achievement of SDG Target 16.1: ‘Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere’. Based on SDG indicator 16.1.1, we could consider an indicator focusing on measuring the numbers of victims of intentional homicide per 100,000 population in areas affected by illegal drug cultivation, production, trafficking and sale, disaggregated by sex and age.

My third and final example relates to Chapter 4 of the UNGASS Outcome Document and the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality. SDG Target 5.1 on ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere could be translated into an indicator tracking the number of reported cases of stigma and discrimination in accessing healthcare services by women who use drugs (related to UNGASS para 4.b on non-discriminatory access to healthcare services).

Our second conclusion is related to the fact that the ARQ might not be able to provide a full picture of what is happening on the ground. This is because only half of all member states respond to the ARQ, and of those, only a minority fill in the entirety of the Questionnaire. The resulting gaps in available data inevitably provide an incomplete picture of the drug policy landscape. But in addition to this, collecting data on issues related to human rights may be tricky and require the consideration of supplementary data collected by both civil society and UN agencies such as the OHCHR, UNDP, UN Women, UNICEF and others. These considerations should be taken very seriously into account the ARQ review process, and UN agency cooperation on data collection should be a top priority – especially in light of the implementation of the UN Common Position on drug policy but also to avoid duplication of efforts and available resources.

I would like to conclude by saying that we are acutely aware, as civil society, of the many challenges related to reviewing the ARQ, but also of the capacity building needs for many member states to adequately respond to what can be a complex, costly, and time-consuming tool. However, thisis a key opportunity, and we cannot afford to keep with the current status quo.

In January last year, an expert consultation was held to kick off the ARQ review process. But the event did not provide sufficient opportunities for a discussion on meaningful structural and substantive changes to the ARQ. The space granted to civil society and other UN agencies to feed into the process was also severely limited. Today, we stand ready, as civil society, to contribute to the review process going forward, including at the next expert meeting planned for July 2019. And we look forward to further discussions with you all on this issue in the coming months.

Q) Are gender and morale of harm reduction in Canada, related to the new indicators?

 Michelle Boudreau: Yes, I would say that the gender based analysis is a framework that sits over all of our policies, let me also add that our drug policy (substance) we have a separate framework that we have developed that sits on top of it to ensure that the various pillars (enforcement, treatment) ensure we develop those policies accordingly.

Q)When Canada started to legalise cannabis, has it been different or has it been politically different?

Michelle Boudreau: We have consistently done surveys in Canada on the consumption on drugs, alcohol and tobacco, based on fact and data. The concern was on the consumption patterns in alcohol, a big consumption and based on this. The intention of the public health approach to focus on that population, 15-18 and students who are accessing cannabis.

 Isaac Morales: I’d like to also add,it is necessary to have a whole picture of an illicit market, the whole drug problem not just the consumption, the supply chain etc. it is important to take into account the development issues, and the root causes and violence and crime related to illicit drug market, and by saying so I insist, it is important to identify and develop new indicators to make a better assessment of our national drug policy. Without these, we will not have the whole picture.

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