Informal dialogue: UNODC Executive Director

Jamie Bridge, Chair, VNGOC: I’m Jamie bridge. I’m the chair of the Vienna NGO committee on drugs and we’re really grateful to Ms Ghada Waly and to other senior colleagues from UNODC for joining us today and for giving us this opportunity. These informal dialogues have been a regular part of the CND proceedings now for a long time, and they’ve become a really important opportunity for NGOs. This is a great opportunity for colleagues to direct their questions to UNODC senior management and to hear directly on lots of key issues. Thanks again for allowing us to fit this into what must be a very busy schedule.

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Thank you for joining us for this informal dialogue between civil society and UNODC. I’m very pleased to have this chance to speak directly although unfortunately only virtually with NGO partners on the margins of the Commission on narcotic drugs. During the opening session two days ago, the chairman of the Vienna NGO committee on drugs highlighted the role of civil society in addressing drug related issues and challenges. I could not agree more. Allow me to also take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Jamie bridge on his reelection as chair. Civil society is an integral partner for UNODC and for member states in preventing and treating abuse and drug related disorders and advocating for humane and effective drug policies that protect the health and human Rights of everyone the ground. Your voice with policymakers enabled us to work with greater impact as we cooperate to assist people in need of treatment and care. Your insights are also very important to us in developing our work and our approaches. I very much look forward to hearing from you. I thank our NGO partners who submitted questions and I will try to answer as many as I can.

Orsi Fehrer, SSDP:  We would like to commend the UNODC for providing the Youth Forum with a platform to discuss how youth can be more involved in addressing global drug issues last year. Understanding that a lot of this discussion focused on local efforts, we would like to enquire if there are any plans to expand the influence, power and/or opportunities provided to the Youth Forum when engaging with the UNODC or CND, particularly during Sessions & Intersessionals? The Youth Forum is a key opportunity for young people to engage in the drug policy process at the United Nations level. Many youth-led organisations have attempted to get clarity on the selection process for the Youth Forum from national delegations & governments to no avail. Are there plans to increase the transparency of the selection process?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Youth empowerment is dear to my heart and one of the key enablers identified in the UNODC corporate strategy for 2021-2025. Regarding the Youth Forum, we are currently working on allowing more youth to participate from each country and in languages other than English. The event will take place in Central Asia this year and we are hoping to extend the pilot to other regions if possible. As for the selection process for the forum, it is the prerogative of the countries to nominate representatives so each country will nominate one or two representatives to participate in the forum. Many Member States do in fact organise open competitions and bidding processes and we certainly encourage such inclusive and transparent practices to include more youth in the dialogue.

BURUNDIAN ASSOCIATION FOR A PEACE WORLD WITHOUT DRUGSFORUT Sierra Leone, Turkish Green Crescent, Ungdomens Nykterhetsförbund Sweden (Valentine Havyarimana, Boi-Jeneh Jalloh, Meryem Nagehan Ulusoy, Filip Nyman): According to UNODC Strategy, access to vulnerable segments of the society is a priority for multiple components of drug policy. Does UNODC have any concrete suggestions to mobilize nation states in times of crises like the COVID19 pandemic and are there plans to provide assistance to less affluent countries e.g. for reviewing national laws or providing expertise?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: One of the major challenges posed by the crisis has been the lack of access in many countries to much needed controlled medicines. Last year UNODC together With INCB and WHO issued an urgent call for equal access to control medicines during the pandemic.  In addition, UNODC has been engaging directly with policymakers and treatment managers to ensure the continuity of services for people with drug use disorders during the pandemic. We will also be utilising the joint statement adopted by Member States at this CND to draw greater attention to drug issues during the crisis. In terms of our support to countries, UNODC is providing legislative assistantce on the implementation of the international drug control conventions as well as advice on elaborating effective and humane National Drug Control strategies in several member states with a strong focus on building the capacities of the developing countries.

Association for Safer Drug Policies Sweden & International Drug Policy Consortium, UK (Johan Lindskog/ Adrià Cots Fernández): The UN System Common Position is a groundbreaking document that should guide the work of all UN entities on drug-related matters. It gives UNODC the lead in the implementation Task Team.  What is the UNODC planning to do in 2021 to take the work of the Task Team further along

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: UNODC is very proud of its role in the task team on the UN system common position. The aim of the common position is to enhance assistance to member states and improve the coordination among UN agencies. So this year, the task team will roll out the guidance to UN resident coordinators and country teams with a view to supporting the member states in developing and implementing balanced comprehensive and sustainable responses to the world drug problem that are human rights based as well as development oriented. So the focus will be on helping the country teams, the resident coordinators and aid the rollout of the common position.

Actis – Norwegian policy network on alcohol and drugs (Stig Erik Sørheim): It is increasingly clear that a significant push to change drug laws is now coming from commercial operators in jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized. This may be one of the most significant consequences of the legalization of cannabis in some countries, and may influence and shape drug policies in countries that still adhere to the global drug policy conventions.  What is the UNODC doing to monitor these developments?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: This question is mainly about our World Drug Report. Every year, our World Drug Report dedicates a full chapter to addressing developments in jurisdictions regulating the non-medical use of cannabis. So we are following the situation very closely in order to be able to provide member states with accurate information and advice. The World Drug Report reviews the details of implementation of those jurisdictions while looking at different indicators to analyse trends in use and supply. UNODC provides research and analysis, delivers technical assistance to address world drug challenges in line with Member States. Addressing compliance with those commitment is the role of the International Narcotics Control board which is mandated to review the compliance of governments with the provisions of international drug control treaties. Thank you.

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Austria (Ian Tennant): How will you operationalize the envisaged mainstreaming of partnerships with civil society, as outlined in the UNODC strategy for 2021-2025.

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Engaging with civil society is a key enabler. It’s an important enabler in the new UNODC corporate strategy, and we aim to strengthen our partnerships with NGOs already in place and also to reach out to new stakeholders. So the first thing that we will be doing after putting this at the heart of our set strategy, we are starting a mapping exercise through the Vienna NGO committee on drugs as well as the NGO Alliance on crime Prevention and criminal justice. Then, an analysis of the information we have collected to identify the counterparts with whom we can engage at the global, regional and international levels. And then we will look at the normative and the operational and research side of our work and see which of these areas of our mandate we can engage with.

Dianova International, Switzerland (Lucia Goberna): As treatment service providers, we now receive more people facing at the same time substance use disorders and non-substance addictions, e.g., cannabis use and compulsive online gaming, or alcohol overuse and pathological gambling. Are there any practical initiatives or guidelines by UNODC to help treatment providers deliver better services for these people?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: It is indeed an important challenge that the UN system is working together to address. The WHO is the lead agency on the treatment and management of addictive behaviours that are not linked to control. UNODC and WHO have been collaborating in the field of drugs dependence treatment and care for more than 10 years now. Our teams are working on guidelines on the treatment and care of comorbidities of drug use disorders that will include all the major mental health conditions including other addictive behaviours, and I hope that this will go a long way toward filling this gap. So WHO is leading, we are working with them on this.

FAAAT, Spain: With regard to transparency, cohesion and accountability within the United Nations system: As we understand the INCB Secretariat operates within the administrative and logistic frame of the UN as a treaty body. We have been studying the actions of the INCB Secretariat and have not been able to quite understand the relationship it, and the Board, has with the United Nations system. Is there a guiding document, such as a memorandum of understanding (or other governing documentation) detailing the relationship, role, responsibilities, and oversight applied to the INCB Secretariat by the UNODC? Is it publicly available and can you share it? If not, why?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: There are two documents readily available and easy to find online documents. These two documents are the documents that define the relationship between INCB, the Secretariat and UNODC. The first one is the 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs which established the INCB and the second one is the ECOSOC Resolution 91/48. The annex to that resolution determines how UNODC, formerly known as UNDCP provides secretariat services to the INCB. It decides that the staff providing such services shall be under the direction of the board, in matters relating to its functions and powers under the conventions, and that they shall be under the direction of the ED of UNODC and other matters. Both documents as I said are available online, you can have access to them easily.

Fourth Wave Foundation, India (Dayana Vincent): One promising strategy for drug prevention seems to be to define risk factors and protective factors in the youth environments, and then address these factors by policies and programmes that reduce risk factors and strengthen protective factors. This has been an important element in the Icelandic prevention model. Do you have examples of other countries or communities that have used the same strategy and, if so, what have been the experiences?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Indeed such strategies are very effective and are recognized UNODC, WHO International standards on Drug Use Preventions. Many models of community and Youth mobilisation have been developed and have been piloted worldwide. I invite you to consult the standards as well as the handbook on youth participation, which was presented to CND last year. For examples and for best practices, my staff are also here at your disposal for follow up questions. So please feel free to get in touch after this meeting to find out about more examples and more best practices. But you can also look at the example of Egypt where we have worked with youth and we have created youth networks and we have specifically worked on youth environments on how to address these factors protection and prevention.

Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, Canada (Nazlee Maghsoudi): Can you please provide an update on the health responses module of the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs that has been forthcoming for some time?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: We have been making progress on this toolkit indeed. And in fact, since last CND, two modules have been released in the health response series. One on access and diversion prevention, and another on treatment and care. Access and diversion prevention offers guidance on ensuring access to controlled medicines for clinical and scientific use while preventing their diversion. Treatment and care provides information guidelines and practical tools for the treatment of drug use disorders as well as for opioid overdose prevention and management. Further modules are to be released this year, including on prevention and they will be made available online.

IOGT Norway & Drug Policy Centre, Sweden (Cecilie Widnes / Peter Moilanen): The International Standard on Drug Use Prevention offer excellent guidance, among others the point to the important role of parents for preventing harmful behaviors in children and adolescents.

Judging from UNODC’s point of view, to what extent have the prevention standards been used by Member States and does UNODC have examples of good parenting programs from other parts of the world? How could UNODC and civil society organizations stimulate more exchange of experiences?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: We are eager to engage with civil society on fostering exchange of experiences. And I invite you all to use this very forum, the Vienna NGO committee to do so and to reach out to us to organise joint events. In some countries, we have had the possibility to work in a sustained manner for many years and we have witnessed a change in the culture of prevention that has been documented by independent scientific studies or by Member States themselves. We are now working to develop a tool to assess National Prevention systems using the standards as a benchmark in terms of work on family skills, our own two programmes- strong families, and families united have been piloted in Asia and we are in the process of piloting them in other regions as well. So please go ahead and do engage with us in these two programmes.

FUNDACION PREVER, Colombia (GLORIA DE SALVADOR): The statistics show that young people and teenagers start consuming at an early age, which justifies outpatient medical programs, helping to prevent social exclusion. How could a training and experience-sharing program be created?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: UNODC has created treatment precisely to address this gap. As you know, there’s a good base of evidence for using family therapy to address drug use disorders in adolescence, through treatment UNODC has distilled the key elements from many models of family therapy, and it has been piloted in Indonesia, in Vietnam, with reports of positive treatment results for both youth and families. So the materials are online, and my colleagues here are at your disposal to provide more information on this. So if Gloria wants to get in touch with us later, we will be able to provide her with the answers.

ACEID, Costa Rica (Ernesto Cortés): How can we improve and assure a greater Involvement of People Who Use Drugs in the HIV response in Latin America?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: inclusion is a priority across UNODC’s work. And again, it is mentioned in the corporate strategy very clearly as an enabler, and it’s part of how we work in all regions, including Latin America. Our office is advocating for a people centred approach that supports funds and empowers community based organisations, including organisations and networks of people who use drugs in all aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of the delivery of HIV, health and social protection services. We have also been engaging with civil society on this issue through UNODC/CSO group on drug use and HIV, allowing for more effective collaboration and joint initiatives and support inclusivity and we work very closely.

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), USA (Sue Thau): Children who first smoke marijuana under the age of 14 are more than five times as likely to have a substance use disorder as adults than those who first use marijuana at age 18.  In addition, substance use prevention is a sound investment, with every dollar invested having the potential to result in savings of between $2 and $20. Despite these facts, substance use prevention has been underutilized and under-resourced relative to its ability to reduce population level rates of substance use disorders and related issues. Please explain how UNODC, INCB and WHO will work together to ensure that substance use prevention is a higher priority for emphasis in designing, developing and implementing responses to the world’s drug problems?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: A very important question indeed. Prevention of drug use and related risky behaviour is a cornerstone of our work on drug issues. Successful prevention requires parallel efforts working on the policy level while also engaging communities directly. We are working with policymakers in several countries to improve National Prevention approaches, guided by the UNODC, WHO international standards for drug use prevention. At the same time, we are developing and piloting evidence-based programmes for families and schools at the national level, reaching 95,000 family members last year only. We are currently developing an app to reach parents in the midst of the current circumstances. We are also working to mobilise the unique contribution of youth. One example is our work with Japan’s Drug Abuse Prevention centre, which provides grants to fund drug prevention initiatives for youth and by youth. So that’s a very important example that we can benefit from and maybe replicate in other countries.

Association Proyecto Hombre, Spain (Oriol Esculies): According to the 2013-2019 Report of the Proyecto Hombre Observatory (Spain) on the profile of people with addiction problems, about 65% of people who started treatment in our organisation, have not studied or only finalised primary education, and only 38% were employed when starting the treatment, most of which in precarious conditions. Women are disproportionately affected, as the study shows that more than 72% were unemployed (for more information, please see http://proyectohombre.es/informe-observatorio/). In fact, such difficulties will only be aggravated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. What policies and measures should be promoted to support the socio-labour insertion of people with addiction problems? What policies and measures should be promoted for the effective integration of the gender perspective in socio-labour insertion policies?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: We do recognise that supporting social reintegration in the community, including through employment, is an essential part of the effective long term management of recovery, which cannot focus only on preventing relapse. Crucially, these efforts should incorporate participation and integration in educational and vocational courses including volunteering, active involvement in initiatives to reduce the burden of stigma and discrimination which as you correctly pointed out affects women more than men. Some of the training that we provide to policymakers and treatment officers on care, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration covers the particular challenges that women face, and address how to provide services tailored to their specific needs.

Veterans Action Council, USA (Ricardo Pareyda): Given the spirit of the treaty and the recent change of status for cannabis from a prohibitively controlled narcotic to a recognized medicine, what are the obligations of each state to adhere to this new international law and what enforcement mechanisms are in place to protect the rights of patients to access and benefit from this important medicine?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: The state obligations under the international drug control conventions is under the purview of the International Narcotics Control Board and I can only refer you to them in terms of medical and scientific uses of cannabis. The text of the 1961 convention always permitted state parties to pursue medical and scientific uses of controlled substances. UNODC continues to work with the WHO and the INCB to assist member states in improving accessibility and availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, while at the same time preventing the diversion and misuse in line with their obligations and commitments.

So I hope this has answered your questions. I’m afraid I’m out of time. So I will have to leave you in the good hands of the divisional directors, who will remain at your disposal to answer any further questions.

Thank you for taking part in this dialogue and I very much hope that we meet as many of you in person soon perhaps in the next year and that if I have the opportunity to visit your projects and programmes on the ground in your countries and regions, to see your work helping people who need us most, thank you once again for your cooperation with UNODC.

Jamie Bridge, Chair, VNGOC: Jean-Luc, if I can give you the floor in case there’s any addition comments you’d like to make at this point.

Amy: My question surrounds the obligation of countries to share information about medical utility for prohibited substances. For instance, the United States has been funding medical cannabis studies in other countries outside of the US, and in the US has only promoted the study of cannabis from a harm model, thereby limiting access to medical cannabis utility that has been verified by funding and other countries. Can there be some form to make these countries share this information that they’re aware of, to increase access and availability with science based evidence.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: I can tell you that evidently what is happening in the world of narcotics overall is of keen interest to UNODC in our research team who deals with the research of the World Drug Report. It gives you a great overview about what is happening and we do refer to all national studies and research available to us so that is very clear. Valid concerns of the cannabis- evidently with the new situations as we witnessed evolving still today. We are trying to track them as well. We are in close consultation with national authorities to collect as much evidence as feasible, and to try to derive as much as we can in the current situation to me knowing that the effects of the legalization of cannabis might take much longer to become available. We do follow up incrementally and collect data. We work with WHO. We do have as well a Scientific Advisory Committee to ensure that we are really on track. I would say still the gold standard when it comes to research and evidence, including cannabis but as well as other illicit narcotic drug. Information Exchange is being done through the mechanism of the INCB.

Michael Kravitz: Within the United States, we’re working in 36 states now with what we’re calling modern medical cannabis. In 16 states including the one I’m sitting in Virginia, where we passed adult regulated access programmes and really as an offer recognizing that The United States federal government has not yet changed its federal law and you work with federal government, this is an offer of back channel communication if you will, that the Cannabis movement is offering to the UNODC to have access to any of the information, in any of the states, inside of the United States that you think would be relevant or interesting directly from the source from the patients, from the caregivers, from the distributor, from the regulators, from the legislators.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: The offer is well taken.

Marie Nougier, IDPC: My question is regarding the drafting of the UNODC World Drug reports every year. As you know, many UN agencies are launching calls for contributions ahead of their reports, providing opportunities for civil society but also from Member States and other UN agencies to provide inputs into these reports and I was wondering whether there was any possibility for UNODC to do this as well as an opportunity to show how civil society can provide meaningful contributions for the World Drug Report.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: With regard to the drafting of the world work report, which is an extremely cumbersome and exhaustive task. We do have approved by the CND our new annual questionnaire which has gone out to the member states as such, in which we did hope to collect through the national governments, a comprehensive series of data coming from different agents within a national context. But within that very broad questionnaire, which is reviewed and approved by the national government itself, I mean we do hope to collect as much of the information available. Having said that, this is not the only source on which we base the report itself. We look as well in all the academic journals. We do have the Scientific Advisory Committee so we are tapping into many different sources meant to make sure that those who do not contribute or do not fully contribute within the annual questionaire is that we still get an accurate picture in the context of many data gaps.

Slum Child Foundation, Kenya: My question goes to the UNODC prevention team. I think three years ago, they launched a project in the prisons on doing a project on prevention. I think family strengthening. Based on the response from the Executive Director for UNODC, she has just mentioned about the other continent, the progress that they’re having in place and so on and so forth. So I just wanted to know how far they’ve gone with that project and is it possible for other civil society organisation to be involved in this because we’ve been waiting for the pilot project to be done. I would be very much happy to hear about the progress and how we can be part of that family strengthening programme.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: I don’t think that we have that precise answer available on that specific project in Zanzibar, but we definitely will look up and can contact the division involved and make sure that we get the precise information on that specific programme to you and see how we can explore eventual collaboration.

Cannabis Education Guild, Canada: What policies is the UNODC developing to ensure small, medium and large sized corporations operate transparently, require social policy integration and enforce accountability for human rights practices to prevent labour exploitation in the current and future cannabis supply chain?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: First of all within the UN family, when we worked to the UN Global Compact it’s a private companies in the private industry, we are looking more and more within the overall portfolio of the ESGs in the context of the SDGs. To do that, we have a GRI which we are promoting and the GSI is basically the matrix which we try to measure in the corporate responsibilities. So there’s a lot of work being done within the UN on the entire framework itself. We are absolutely delighted to see how many companies are now promoting the of ESG concepts, but evidently these needs to go beyond goodwill and eventually less benign Public Relations and Marketing instead of realities. And that’s why again we try to have the GRI in place, we can measure the real progress made within those companies.

David Borden DRCnet, USA: I’m making a brief comment rather than a question specifically. A characterization was made earlier to the effect of marijuana legalisation in the United States being driven by commercial interests. Actually, what we tend to see is that businesses will stay out of funding initiatives because they don’t have to, their NGOs have the resources and the mandate to carry out this activism, so the businesses instead put their money in later to influence how the laws are regulated. The business actually is divided, and we sometimes see business are heavily invested in and profiting from a medical model, opposing legalisation initiatives. Most recently we’ve seen movement towards legalisation in state legislatures, and this appears to be driven by a combination of the popularity of the issue in the United States together with the desire of legislators for them to be the ones who regulate the trade rather than the authors of the initiatives.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: Thank you. It’s a very internal debate which is happening within the United States at its current stage. This debate which I think divides many of our member states within the United Nations Framework, no doubt, which is as well a very lively and rich debate within the Vienna NGO committee as it is in the business sectors. I think that we do have, when it comes to the legal frameworks, to refer to the international narcotics control board who is by treaty bounded mandates on the compliance of national Governments with the treaties and I am not ready to venture more deeply in what you indeed have called a comment. Which by itself would fill a few side events with the Commission on narcotic drugs.

Jim Cleary: I’m a medical oncologist palliative care physician at the University of Indiana in the United States. Our track record on making controlled substances is not been good for cancer patients, palliative care patients. I am excited about at marijuana cannabinoids actually being approved medically, but looking at the track record is this actually work? Can we as a world globe make available and can we actually improve access to opioids as we move forward and improving access to cannabinoids?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs: This is one of the core questions being discussed at the current Commission on Narcotic Drugs. There is a resolution being negotiated on the accessibility of controlled medicines. It is indeed rather paradoxical that at one hand, we seem that the diversion of the controlled medicines is happening at the levels and that those who need to have the access for all good medical reasons or the pride of them. It’s a difficult question which has been raised within the expert commission of drug dependency which is established to make recommendations to WHO, who were then putting forward to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs for a vote by the CND. It’s a very hard balance and I’m regretting to say that at this moment far too many who medically will be justified to get access to those control medicines, regretfully do not fall within that category of those benefiting from it.

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