Home » Side Event: Humanitarian Drug Policy: The Rome Consensus 2.0 as a Pragmatic Tool of Advocacy to Implement Universal Health Coverage

Side Event: Humanitarian Drug Policy: The Rome Consensus 2.0 as a Pragmatic Tool of Advocacy to Implement Universal Health Coverage

Organized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with the support of Colombia, Italy, the UNODC Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, the Recovery Foundation, the Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative, the Villa Maraini Foundation, the Knowmad Institute, Drug Policy Network South-East Europe, the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association and the Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network.


Dr. Lasha Goguadze: International Federation of Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies (Moderator)

Welcome. How can we make universal health coverage work for PUWD?

Dr. Massimo Barra: Founder Rome Consensus

The Rome Consensus was established in 1995. This is when drug use was first being accepted and considered as a health issue. A number of organizations came together to form Rome Consensus. People with drug use disorders needed an alliance of humanity to address their health needs. This was a bottom up initiative, when people came together inspired by the light of science and humanity. We also bring in law enforcement who can deflect people away from the criminal justice system. The human
brain is not interested in if a substance is legal or not. As the Rome Consensus we don’t take part in political discussions on on prohibition vs. regulation, but promote health and social well-being for all people who use drugs. We are focused on evidence-based treatment, harm reduction with an emphasis on the most vulnerable. We advocate for people with drug disorders at all levels.

The more people you treat and take people out of harms way we can stop violence and build more just communities.

H.E. Jaime Hernan Urrego Rodriguez: Vice President of Public Health and Service Provision, Republic of Colombia:

Welcome to this side event. On behalf of the Colombian Government I’d like to express our satisfaction with the Rome Consensus in the understanding of drugs. This understanding is fully aligned with the Colombian governments approach. In the Latin America there has more than 1 million deaths as a result of war on drugs. With popular support we are turning this around and refocusing it towards public health and human rights approach. The government has only been in power for 7 months but we are looking to design a scheme as alternative to illegal markets that also helps with climate change and other important issues. In arms of pubic health, we are discussing regulated markets. For people with addiction problems we can also offer alternatives that are based in public health. We call for international cooperation so this can have global impact, particularly on human rights.

H.E. Ambassador Alessandro Cortese: Italian Mission, at UN Vienna

Welcome. I’m happy to see this is side event is cosponsored by Italy and Colombia. I commend the passion and enthusiasm of the Rome 2.0 Consensus. Since the Consensus was launched at the 2020 CND so much has happened, but we still have more do. The World Drug Report shows we have so much more to do, especially among the youth. Criminalization and policies that discriminate are not working. We must focus on the ‘health and wellbeing of mankind’ and I quote the Conventions.

I support the humanitarian approach of the Rome 2.0 consensus. Within Italian drug policies we have more 700 Therapeutic Communities and treatment centers that are free for people who use drugs. We need empathy and humanity when dealing people with drug issues.

Giovanna Campello – Chief, UNODC Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Section:

I want to highlight the benefit of Rome Consensus 2.0 as a great advocacy tool. It can be used to hold member states to task. You agreed to it, now implement it! The right to health needs to be at the center, and this is where UNODC and the Rome Consensus 2.0 align. More than 80% people around the world don’t have access to controlled medicines for pain. A balance is possible to ensure access to essential medicines while preventing diversion. The right to health is also important for people vulnerable to start using drugs. We need to do more for prevention. Inequalities can drive drug use, as can adverse childhood experiences.

The right to health by people who use drugs: we have the strongest recommendations for this. There are too many human rights violations undertaken in the name of drug treatment and care. We need patient-centered care, this is an old term but still relevant. We need to end conviction or punishment appropriate cases of minor nature. Let’s continue to advocate fo for putting the health and wellbeing of people at the center of system of drug policy.

Joanna Travis-Roberts: Chief Executive of International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP):

ISSUP is an international organization that creates connections trained knowledge. We are funded by the US Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). We have nearly 30,000 members worldwide. Recently we have had a real growth of people from the law enforcement sector. Our mission is to professionalize the workforce to ensure they are engaged, professional and ethical.

What we hear from our communities is that they are working tirelessly to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. They also act to reduce stigma and engage with marginalized communities. Universal health coverage means that all people have access to the full range of options available to them.

Rev. Martin Diaz: Knowmad Institut / European Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies on Human Rights and Science:

Greetings, dear colleagues and members of the international community. I am honored to address you today as a religious minister to the one hand, and to the other as a forcibly displaced person due to the destructive consequences of the war on drugs. As we gather here today, millions of people around the world continue to suffer from the punitive measures and criminalization policies that have led to the marginalization of vulnerable communities.

I take this opportunity to highlight the progress of Rome Consensus 2.0 in the consolidation as a fundamental tool for an effective and humanitarian drug policy reform. This manifesto, supported by a large number of organizations and world leaders, advocates for a drug policy which is based on human rights, public health, and social justice.

We must acknowledge that the current punitive model has only strengthened structures of death that must be stopped in the name of peace and dignity. Over the years, it has become evident, that the so-called “war on drugs,” has turned out to be a cruel war, among people and against people. It also has prevented an effective model and generated exorbitant profits for criminal organizations, that terrorize entire communities and countries. This model has clearly become a disaster for the rule of law. In addition, it is even a reality that all this devastation has not stopped the abuse of drugs, but quite the opposite. Legitimizing fallacies and profound contradictions, while stigmatization and criminalization make the lives of people who use drugs more dangerous and unhealthy. Remember, more than half a million people die each year from overdose or adulteration, and these rates continue to rise.

It is urgent to address this problem from a public health perspective, ensuring access to professional health services, and comprehensive education based on science. We need to eliminate prejudices and stereotypes that stigmatize people who use drugs. Deflection and Harm reduction strategies are crucial to prevent overdoses, improve public health outcomes, increase safety, and restore trust in law enforcement. The community must be involved to connect people with the appropriate care and resources, contributing directly to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, 10, 16, and 17.

I express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Colombia, which has shown its commitment to a humanitarian drug policy reform. We hope to have President Gustavo Petro’s endorsement soon, which is a powerful and symbolic act for other heads of state to join this humanitarian effort.

Dear colleagues, it’s clear that we are running out of time to find solutions to a problem that is more than just urgent. Millions of people worldwide continue to suffer from violence, discrimination, and marginalization due to the current necropolitical model. It’s essential to work together to restore the dignity and rights of all those affected by the mentioned drug policy.

It is important to heed the proposal of Rome Consensus 2.0 regarding a paradigm shift in drug policy, based on respect for human rights, harm reduction, public health, and social justice. This implies, among other things, access to effective treatments, the decriminalization of drug possession and use, and the promotion of sustainable development and citizen security alternatives.

I would like to call on all those present, especially public authorities and members of organized civil society, to support and join the Rome Consensus 2.0 and work towards building a more equitable and healthy world. Humanitarian intervention is needed to end the war on drugs, a discriminatory, violent, and marginalizing conflict. We need to act together to create a better future, where peace and dignity prevail. Let us Say No to War and Yes to Peace Together! Thank you very much.

Elie Aaraj – Middle East and North African Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA)

The MENA region has the highest number of displaced people in the world. This is due to the wars in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the aftermath of the Beruit explosion and more. We have have high levels of HIV and repressive laws that criminalize people who use drugs.

Only 7 countries in the MENA region have opioid antagonist therapy (OAT) and there are only 9 countries with needle-syringe programs (NSP). There is no naloxone distribution and no safe consumption sites anywhere in the region. The NSP coverage is only 25 syringes per year for people who inject drugs and the WHO recommends 2-3 per day.

The region has no specific services for women in entire region. Women are at high risk for abuse if they enter treatment or seek services. Not all is in the region, we have civil society networks and peer-runs groups of PWUD and women living with HIV. Unfortunately there is no strategy for the region and MENA is a risk of facing withdrawal for Global Fund money after 2024. Also the UNAIDS MENA office is about close and be relocated. People have the right to live in dignity and access quality services but we are facing incredible odds in the MENA region.

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