The Engagement of Civil Society for the UNGASS: Drugs and Health

The contribution of civil society to the UNGASS 2016 upon the theme "Drugs and health"

In April 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, the most significant opportunity to hold in-depth debates in 20 years. Civil society organizations can play beneficial role in the preparation for this meeting; for this reason, the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) and the New York NGO Committee on Drugs (NYNGOC) have jointly launched the Civil Society Task Force (CSTF), The objective of which is to secure civil society participation in the UNGASS preparatory process.

One of the main tasks of the CSTF was to implement a Global Survey, designed to provide an overview of the work of NGOs active in the drug field as well as the key priorities and concerns to be addressed by the UNGASS; it is also a means to measure their level of engagement and interest in participating in the UNGASS preparatory process.

The VNGOC and NYNGOC have published a document which includes recommendations  and priority areas for inclusion in the UNGASS outcome document.  These recommendations are based on a preliminary compilation of the results the Global Civil Society Survey, as well as on prior civil society collaborations.  However, since regional and thematic consultations have not yet been finalized, nor a number of language versions of the survey’s results have been yet translated, it is likely that the final document will include additional information and recommendations.

These recommendations and priorities have been organized in regards to the five thematic areas for the 2016 UNGASS: drugs and health, drugs and crime, human rights, women, children, and communities, new challenges, and alternative development.  (Complete document available here). As a member of the VNGOC Dianova has decided to publish the key-elements of this document, starting with the first section dedicated to Drugs and Health – as always the article in also available in the Spanish and French languages.

The need for evidence-based drug prevention

There is a need for greater discussion about the importance of world-wide evidence-based drug prevention initiatives, particularly for youth. Drug prevention should include environmental prevention strategies as well as early intervention with youth and adults who are engaging in risky behaviours in order to avoid the use of drugs and the escalation of use into dependence. Civil society organizations highlight that drug prevention should also provide accurate information about the effects of different substances on the body and the risks associated with use  (…)

The widespread adoption and availability of harm reduction

Harm reduction is a key priority for the majority of civil society organizations working in the field of drugs. Harm reduction services should be widely available and freely accessible to all people who use drugs, regardless of nationality, race/ethnicity, age, gender, class, or any other demographic characteristic. Sterile syringes and injecting paraphernalia should be available to all people who use drugs, including incarcerated persons. The availability of naloxone overdose fatality prevention has been identified as crucial, and greater resources and efforts are needed to ensure this  (…)

Funding concerns for treatment, prevention, and other services for people who use drugs

Globally there is a clear lack of adequate funding available for harm reduction programmes, drug treatment services and evidence-based prevention programmes. Financial constraints limit the availability and accessibility of these health-based services for people who use drugs (…)

Governments and UN agencies (in particular UNODC) should be encouraged to examine the proportional resources going to prevention, harm reduction and treatment responses to the drug issues in the context of and in comparison with expenditure on supply reduction measures.

Universally available evidence-based and culturally-appropriate drug dependence treatment

It is crucial that substance dependence treatment is grounded in evidence and is culturally appropriate. Such treatment should be accessible, affordable or free for those who seek it. Treatment should also include the provision of medical and mental health treatment for people who use drugs who have more complex needs, as well as the possibility to include families in this care (particularly for youth). Drug dependence treatment should allow for a variety of treatment approaches and outcomes, including services to support abstinence goals as well as options for harm reduction  (…)

The need for a health response to drug use

Civil society have clearly expressed the need for a public health response to the problems associated with drug use (…)

There is a view from some civil society groups that the criminalisation of people who use drugs has had negative consequences for the health of those individuals and society at large. Many civil society actors advocate for the decriminalization or depenalization of people who use drugs with the possibility of referral to treatment for rehabilitation and promoting access to harm reduction as well. Some civil society actors support the legalization and regulation of drug markets as a means to improve the overall health of people who use drugs through quality control and safer markets while others stand firmly behind a traditional interpretation of the conventions. 

The need to address stigma, discrimination, and reintegration for drug user health and well-being

There is great concern about the wider societal impact of stigmatisation on the health and well-being of people who use drugs. People who use drugs are often viewed as immoral, as criminals, or as both. Many civil society actors have highlighted that this stigma has health consequences for people who use drugs as they may avoid accessing health services and/or suffer ill-treatment by health care providers, thereby increasing health disparities. Unfortunately the stigma of drug use leads to discrimination against people who use drugs which some people then view as justified. Furthermore, there is a need to increase support for former users to reintegrate into society.