Informal Dialogue with the UNODC Executive Director

VNGOC: Ms. Waly could not make it.

Jean Luc Lemahieu – UNODC: I had the fortune to be working as and working with civil society in my career. I welcome the fact that some 90 NGOs are attending CND and most of side vents are organized by you or with you. Civil society participation is key to tailor responses that address actual problems and we leave no one behind. I hope you can make good use of our tools and the CND. Looking forward to working together.

Jamie Bridge, VNGOC: These are very important events in the CND calendar so we really appreciate everyone’s presence especially Wally who has assumed office less than a month ago. The questins will be answered by a panel of experts from UNODC.

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UNODC: At the generic level, families need to be involved – we developed a guide for children who are exposed to drugs and we piloted that in several countries.

The particular challenge with prevention is that our methodologies that are found effective by science are not used by MS and there are no changes in the last years. Involving families in changing the relationships around children is key. Children are very vulnerable.

We have been sharing juvenile justice section issues across our institutions.

San Patrignano Foundation, Italy (Monica Barzanti): In 2012 the Resolution 55/5 was approved: Promoting strategies and measures addressing specific needs of women in the context of comprehensive and integrated drug demand reduction programmes and strategies. Later, in April 2016, UNODC issued a booklet titled “Guidelines on Drug Prevention and Treatment for girls and women”. Some things have been done, but there is still much to be done in this area. What initiatives is the UNODC planning to stimulate member states to take actions?

Special attention is to be paid to this issue. The condition we face is a very important one, a problematic one, it is, in a certain sense, an epidemic. Women are less respected and have less access to healthcare but also to institutions in general. Services are tailored for men. Mental health problems usually accompany the issue. Domestic violence, so stigma is usually first generated in the family “you should be a good mother”. Women have to manage children in many societies and they cant come to treatment if they fear repercussions involving their children.

Association Proyecto Hombre, Spain (Oriol Esculies)What role does UNODC play to accelerate the adoption by Member States of evidence-based and integral drug policies and interventions to better counter the world drug problem, and to discourage strategies based on beliefs or perceptions which are not supported by scientific evidence?

UNODC: We published big manuals on the standards of treatment. When I presented the evidence based methodology at the plenary yesterday, the audience was happy but then they presented their own methodologies – many of them are not shown to be effective by science. We should be vigilant that tax payer money is not spent on interventions that are not effective.

Rumah Cemara, Indonesia (Patri Handoyo): The global provision of harm reduction interventions, which protect against HIV and hepatitis C, is critically low, with only one percent of people who inject drugs living in countries with high coverage. In the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, Member States noted with concern that the rate of transmission of HIV, the hepatitis C virus and other blood-borne diseases associated with drug use remains high. What concrete steps will UNODC take to promote implementation of harm reduction interventions by member states, including domestic resource mobilisation in accordance with CND Resolution 60/8?

UNODC: The HIV section in my branch is very aware of this. Opioid substation treatment is not utilized in enough countries because of ideological reasons despite being found effective by science. We need interventions to respond to all the needs of the clients, so for example you have to make sure people on the street don’t freeze in the winter.

Drug Free Australia: Pill testing and other drug checking services are becoming increasingly popular in a number of member states. How does UNODC view the service, seeing that in our view it endorses and normalises addictive behaviour and is not in line with the international drug control regime?

UNODC: This is a controversial issue. First of all, the possibility of mobile laboratories in front of disco clubs, aggregations of youth, or rave parties, the testing, the real materials, substances, included in their templates is a little fantasy-based. Because we cannot have this kind of resources available apart from a very small number of substances that can be tested with the means available. Then, the issue is that the pharmacogenetic conditions make a tablet for one person completely harmless, and for a different person completely harmful. You can’t give something to someone and with certainty say it is safe. In reality, a lot of unpredictable effects of drugs when you take them for limited amounts of time or episodic ways. This individual responses is the same for aspirin. Some tablets will cause bleeding in the stomach for some people, some other people will not have negative responses. This is the same for drugs like amphetamines, ecstasy, whatever tested. So, first, it’s difficult to test the number of substances, we have 600 known. You would have to move a Laboratory of the University of New York in front of a disco club; and, on the other hand, there are unpredictable effects depending on the individual for pharmacogenetic reasons. As a former member of the INCB, if you asked someone to give you a pill to check, and you say they’re safe and you seize the material, this was considered, once, although I cannot speak for the INCB today, this was considered legitimate, because you seized the material. If you give it back, then you establish a condition of support, acceptance, legalisation of the material. Because this would not be for medical purposes.

 

Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, Lithuania: What is UNODC doing to protect its own harm reduction work and the countless harm reduction NGOs in the region, to ensure access to life saving information and services?

UNODC: We are doing a lot of things in relationship to our resources. We operate in more than 60 countries with funding coming from UNAIDS and donors, we are ready to do more.

EURAD – Europe for action on drugs (Stig Erik Sørheim): In recent years, several UN bodies, including UNAIDS, UNDP, WHO, the UNODC and the Chief Executives Board, have challenged member states to decriminalize the use, possession and also cultivation of drugs for personal consumption. However, decriminalization has been implemented in different ways in different countries, and there does not seem to be an agreed definition of the term or the extent to which the UN drug control conventions limit member states flexibility in implementing decriminalization policies? How does the UNODC define decriminalization?

UNODC: I can give you a simple definition of decriminalization […] and sometimes people struggle with what it looks like in the national legal aspect. Portugal has been mentioned as a model. There are a number of parameters we have to work under – the conventions do not impose or require to criminalize drug use; they talk about anticipating criminal offences for possession. MS can seek alternatives to criminal responses, but if you don’t criminalize you must have other measures in place to deal with non-medical use. Portugal developed a very elaborate system, invested a lot of resources into treatment and prevention and cases are processed in a civil fashion rather than criminal. To not get into further complexities, I think decriminalization is considered and is discussed across drug control but there are still aspects to be worked out.

WOLA: The international and national scheduling of substances brought under the control of the UN drug conventions can present serious obstacles to conducting research on the health risks and benefits of such substances. How do you plan to interact with researchers and governments in the future to enable such studies while also preventing negative consequences for study participants?

UNODC: The caveat is that a given countries provisions must be followed and ethical guidelines for research. We welcome the involvement of the scientific community.

IDPC – International Drug Policy Consortium, United Kingdom (Marie Nougier) As the UNODC is the lead agency within the implementation Task Team for the UN System Common Position on drugs, could you give us some information about the activities planned by the Task Team for the further dissemination and implementation of the Common Position?

UNODC: The new ARQ has been approved finally. So, we will have a lot more data. The task team is an inter-agency mechanism. Despite many initiatives, […] In the spirit of supporting MS in implementing the commitments, we provide evidence to the MS and hope to influence the debates in a positive direction.

Turkish Green Crescent: Given the importance of UNODC specialists and officials supporting civil society empowerment and capacity building of NGOs in different countries, especially on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and working on evidence-based research. Is there any possibility that UNODC may increase the capacity in its related departments to further empower civil society?

UNODC: I thank the TGC that there is a lot of effort in training and bringing civil society closer to the UN. We do more policy level work, we developed a guide with the VNGOC to have a more practical guide. We try to work with NGOS on the local level but we depend on resources. Drugs is not a priority in terms of the big mandate of the UNODC.

EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs, Belgium (Marie Nougier): Could you elaborate on your plans to ensure the continued and strengthened engagement of civil society in UN policy making processes on drugs, and especially in the future work of UNODC?

UNODC: CND are the main policy making process but of course there is a lot of underlying work. I cannot address the policy making processes really, but our intersessional work provides a lot of opportunities for MS to engage. We look at different aspects of the commitments and we facilitate remote input; diverse voices and we collaborate with NGOs regarding technical assistance. Sometimes NGOs are directly involved in our projects.

We try to support NGOs financially to travel here from the Global South – in coordination with the VNGOC.

VNGOC: We have two more questions left on our list but those are rather personal towards ms. Wally so we wait for that.

World Federation Against Drugs: Data from developing countries?

UNODC: ARQ is hoped to be rolled out soon that steps up our data game. Nigeria had their first scientific household survey.

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UNODC: How do we support the challenges in the global south, we are looking at way to reflect on gender-based violence in the context of SDGs. Our work related to strengthening the criminal justice response. We are honored to bring a lot of legal frameworks but there has to be training and changing minds. We have to work with other mandated agencies and civil societies to respond to what’s happening on the ground. We are looking at improving the way the UN works and have innovative solutions.

Fields of Greens for All: Alternative Development programs for effective responses must include communities to be encouraged to leave their cultivation activities for licensed cannabis growing. Transitioning illegal cultivation to legal. What is the opinion of UNODC?

UNODC: The concept of the intervention is rather complex and needs to be understood in the local context. If you have an emergency issue, ie being relocated, you have to be provided security; then we come to overall quality of life improvement; cash crops and sustainability – it requires a basket of interventions.

It is not clear until now what is the link between production and medical use.

ENPUD: PWUD are key in responding to issues as they emerge. How strong will UNODC will be in championing the decriminalising the PWUD so we can do our job in looking after our communities.

UNODC: Alternatives to punishment or conviction is encouraged in the conventions, they encourage it for minor drug-related crimes. If MS will start next Monday with decrim, they will remove a number of barriers.

[…] We know implementing decriminalisation is an important step. When will UNODC develop a guide to aid MS to implement this.

UNODC: We have issued papers that write it clearly. I congratulated recently the government of Norway as they had a side event “from punitive to support approach”.

VNGOC: We are at time. We will continue with the INCB dialogue.

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