IDPC published a historical analysis of civil society advocacy for drug policy reform at the UN, assessing gains, challenges and insight on how the latter have been generally overcome. The “Turning the tide: Growth, visibility and impact of the civil society drug policy reform movement at the UN” briefing paper offers a historical analysis of civil society advocacy for drug policy reform at the UN, assessing the many gains made and challenges encountered over time – and ways in which reform-oriented civil society has met, resisted, and generally overcome, these challenges. This paper is based on desk research, discussions with advocates involved in the key events discussed in the paper, and the lived experiences of the authors, and so is naturally weighted more to the recent moments such as Beyond 2008, the 2016 UNGASS, the 2019 Ministerial Segment, and the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key international drug policy moments studied in this report – including the 1998 and 2016 UN General Assembly Special Sessions (UNGASS) on drugs, the 2009 High Level Segment and its 10year review in 2019 in particular – have created the momentum for civil society to engage in, and influence, global drug policy debates.
The participation of a wide range of reform-minded civil society representatives – including affected communities of people who use drugs, people in recovery, patients using medicinal cannabis or essential medicines for pain relief, farmers of crops used for illegal drug production, formerly incarcerated people and others – has had an undeniable impact on UN drug policy events, elevating real lived experience from the ground at often dry and bureaucratic debates in Vienna.
The Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs is co-sponsoring several side events at this years CND (12-16 April 2021) and has been asked to nominate speakers. All events will be held online.
The side events where civil society input is expected are:
Family a key social institution for addressing substance use, violence, mental health and promote sustainable development: Lessons learned from parenting under stress, in humanitarian settings and in the context of COVID19
VNGOC Ad Hoc Working Group, NGOs from Asia unite to create a consensus and a call for attention to the challenges in Asia regarding drug matters
No one left behind: UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care
Insights into Treatment and Care for People with Drug Use Disorders in Contact with the Criminal Justice System: Alternatives to Conviction or Punishment
Civil Society & COVID-19 – responses during the pandemic
The length of the intervention will depend on the main organiser of the event but will likely be no longer than 5min.
Deadline for applications is 25 March, 11:45 p.m. CET.
The Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) – the global network of nearly 300 NGOs with the purpose of coordinating and supporting meaningful participation at the CND and other fora – published an urgent position statement. Ahead of the 64th CND in April, with its new hybrid format, the statement outlines our recommendations and expectations for the effective, meaningful participation of civil society online.
The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) today decided to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 drug Convention treaty recognizing the therapeutic value of this century-old medicinal plant and no longer considering it as “particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects.” The proposal came from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which convened an independent scientific assessment undertaken by some of our world’s leading experts in 2017-2018, where evidence and testimonials from all corners of the world were reviewed. In addition to the removal from Schedule IV, beyond our expectations, WHO proposed an ambitious plan to harmonize and embed flexibility into the treaty framework for the access and availability of cannabis medicines. WHO endeavoured to create space for governments to adjust their national policies to fit their needs.
The removal from Schedule IV is a phenomenal news for millions of patients around the world and a historical victory of science over politics.
The civil society also played an important role advocating for the decision. The joint statement has been prepared and submitted by civil society organisations to the secretariat of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. DPNSEE have signed the letter along with 55 other NGOs from 33 countries. The statement is available following this link>>>.
From the countries of the region, two are members of the CND in this current mandate. Croatia voted for the decision, while Turkey voted against. From the neighbouring countries, Austria and Italy voted for, while Hungary was against.
These changes to international law will take effect after each government receives their official notification from the UN Secretary-General. In case a country contests the vote, it would only delay the entry into force of the decision to March 2021, which would only serve to reinforce the historic character of this set of decisions.
Recent commitments to greater involvement of people who use drugs in UN drug policy processes is a positive development but little research attention has been paid to ‘drug user representation’ in this context.
Authors Annie Madden, Kari Lancaster and Carla Treloara from Centre for Social Research in Health and Alison Ritterb from Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia produced the paper Making legitimacy: Drug user representation in United Nations drug policy settings. This paper examines ‘drug user representation’ in the UNGASS on drugs and associated CND processes over three decades.
Findings show that dominant UN drug policy discourses and other practices can have delimiting effects for the political legitimacy of drug user representatives.
The importance of engaging people who use drugs in drug policy development is increasingly acknowledged including in recent UN documents. Little scholarly attention has been paid to ‘drug user representation’ in the global drug policy setting of the UN such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). This paper examines ‘drug user representation’ in key UN drug policy processes over three decades.
The mapping process was undertaken using a corpus of publicly available documents from the UNGASS on Drugs and associated CND processes to identify relevant policy processes from 1987 to 2019.
The analysis shows that despite calls for greater involvement, dominant UN drug policy discourses and other practices delimit both the political subjectivities available to people who use/have used drugs and their capacity to bring their voices to bear in this context. The analysis also highlights that human rights-based discourses, employed by ‘drug user representatives’, have emerged as an important practice of resistance against the problematic and delimiting power effects of existing UN discourses, governing practices and modes of engagement.
In addition to the practices of resistance being undertaken by ‘drug user representatives’, authors suggest there is a need to improve how ‘drug user representation’ is being made possible and done in the sites of UN drug policy deliberation and, that these sites should be opened for questioning. This will not only have a positive impact on political legitimacy for ‘drug user representation’, but on the health and human rights of people who use/have used drugs.
After the two-day Ministerial segment held last week, the Regular segment of the UN Committee for Narcotic Drugs (CND) started on Monday 18 March in Vienna. Several representatives of member organisations and DPNSEE participate in the 62nd CND Session.
Side events are of specific interest because they present activities, project, policies, approaches and other results from a variety of stakeholders. Here is a review of a few of them in which we participated today.
Scaling the UNODC-Lions Clubs International Foundation global partnership for school-based prevention
This international programme, implemented in cooperation between UNODC and the International Association of Lions Clubs in the region, seems like recycling the results of the project in previous years. It is a Social and Emotional Learning Program promoting Connection to school, Positive behaviour, Character education, Anti-bullying, Drug, alcohol, and tobacco awareness and Service-learning. The programme included training for a large number of teachers. The project started in South East Europe, first in Serbia, then in Montenegro and North Macedonia and then in Bosnia Herzegovina and El Salvador. Now, preparations are at the end to start it in Croatia, Guatemala and Ivory Coast. More about the programme is available at www.lions-quest.org.
Addressing stigma: Continuing the discussion
Organized by the Governments of Canada, Estonia, Norway and Uruguay, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section and the Civil Society Task Force. Good example of three-times expanding the health care for drug users in Uruguay was presented. Three Whitepapers QuitStigmaNow in Health Services, Workplace and Media prepared by Dianova International were also presented and are worth reading. Dr Gilberto Gerra, Chief of Health at UNODC stated that ‘Evidence suggests that incarceration because of drug related offenses is associated w low socio-economic status. This can result in more stigma & discrimination making them more vulnerable.’
Strengthening equity in health and resilience: Taking into account the social determinants and risk factors for non-medical use of drugs and criminality
Organised by governments of Portugal and Sweden and UNODC. The Portuguese representative simply explained that their approach is based on two principles: humanism and pragmatism. In Sweden, they have the Strategy on Alcohol, Narcotics, Doping and Tobacco. Health is in all the policies. The highest prevalence of drug use is in groups with lowest education, especially women. UNODC presented data about strong connection between poverty and drug dependence.
During the Ministerial segment, a group of NGO activists protested in front of the Philippines exhibition. NGO’s were warned to abstain from protesting. Today, we were all invited to make a Vienna NGO group photo. Some used the opportunity to hold posters of their friends who were prevented to participate, because of being arrested or killed. The security of the Vienna International Centre estimated this as an act of demonstration, one which NGOs are doing even if they are warned not to do it, took away the posters, forced people to take of shirts with messages (mainly of the campaign Support. Don’t Punish) and informed us that they will propose that NGO participants will be kicked out of the event.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is the principal policy-making body within the UN system on drug control issues and, as such, is the governing body of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in the area of drugs. It analyses the world drug situation and develops proposals to strengthen the international drug control system to combat the world drug problem. The Sixty-second session of the CND will be held in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 22 March 2019.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was established in 1946 as a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The history of CND is presented in the clip presenting its timeline.
In 2019, an extra two days have been added to the usual CND meeting, for a high-level Ministerial Segment. This is because it has been ten years since the adoption of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. The Ministerial Segment will include a general debate as well as two interactive, multistakeholder round tables and will precede the CND on 14 and 15 March 2019.
The International Drug Policy Consortium streamed a webinar on CND 2019 live on 1 Mar 2019. This webinar shed light on the key controversies that are likely to structure the debates, discussed tabled resolutions and opportunities for engagement and showcased the experience of IDPC network members in navigating and leveraging this forum for political advocacy. Presenters were Jamie Bridge (IDPC), Olga Belyaeva (Eurasian Harm Reduction Association – EHRA) and Nazlee Maghsoudi (Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation – CDPE).
The event “got up steam” these two days. Here are some reflections and information.
Wednesday 14 March
Impact of life skills education programmes on prevention in schools: experience in southeast Europe and Latin America
Gilberto Gerra, Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch of UNODC welcomed participants, including diplomatic representatives from Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. He underlined importance of civil society role and the success of the programme and thanked Lions Clubs International.
Matthew Kiefer, Manager of the Lions Quest Skills for Adolescence Programme presented the programme which is based on social and emotional learning. It incorporates the community and family through activities such as service learning. Since 2014 piloting was undertaken in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. In 2017 Bosnia Herzegovina was added and plans for this year are to start in Guatemala and Albania.
Miloš Stojanović, UNODC Regional DDR Officer for South East Europe emphasized the importance of collaboration between UNODC and Lions Club which gives excellent results. So far, more than 4.500 adolescents were involved in the programme. UNODC plans scaling up of programme results in SEE in 2018 and 2019. Melva Ramirez, UNODC Regional DDR Officer for Central America and Caribbean, presented the initial results of the programme in Guatemala. Wadih Maalouf, UNODC Global Programme Coordinator, presented impact among adolescent on prevention and substance use (specifically alcohol, tobacco and marijuana).
Representatives of Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina presented results of the work in their countries.
The urgent need for harm reduction funding: Scaling-up evidence-based interventions for people who use drugs
This event was organised by the Strategic Advisory Group to the UN on HIV and Drug Use, with the aim to highlight the latest evidence on the state of the harm reduction response around the world and explore challenges related to increasing financial and political support for harm reduction and the strategies to overcome them.
Chair of the event was Anne Skjelmerud, NORAD, Norway. Speakers were Dr. Gilberto Gerra, Chief, Drug Prevention and Health Branch, UNODC, Dr. Monica Beg, Chief, HIV/AIDS Section, UNODC, Aljona Kurbatova, National Institute for Health Development, Estonia, Valentin Simionov, International Network of People who Use Drugs and Fionnuala Murphy, Harm Reduction International.
Interesting points from the presentations include:
Anne Skjelmerud opened the event and presented Norwegian experiences with harm reduction. Today in Norway, HIV is not the key problem but HR is still an issue and programmes exist.
Anne Frodham from IDPC talked about the work of the Strategic Advisory Group to the UN on HIV and Drug Use which is comprised of various stakeholders coming from both governmental and civil society sectors.
Dr. Monica Beg presented facts about HIV and drug connection. Globally, PWID account for 8% of all new HIV infections. In EECA, they account for 65% of HIV cases. Average 33 needle-syringes are distributed per person a month, which is far lower than needed (200). UNODC supports some countries, none in SEE.
Aljona Kurbatova talked about harm reduction in Estonia.
Valentin Simionov presented history, aims and mission of INPUD. Death Penalty is still imposed in 32 countries. But, around 8 out of 10 drug related offences are for drug possession only. Only 8% of people in need get harm reduction services. 70.000 – 100.000 people die of opioid overdose annually. Stigma and discrimination are direct result of discrimination of drugs and drug users.
Fionnuala Murphy: overdoses kill more people than murders and traffic accidents together. Situation is critical due to donors withdrawal and lack of national funding.
The future of drug prevention: How to personalize your strategy to be more effective
The event was organized by the Government of the Netherlands, UNODC, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Speakers were Victor Sannes, Dr Lonneke van Leeuwen, Trimbos Institute, Dr Sandra Bukman, University of Applied Siencies, Utrecht, Gilberto Gerra, UNODC and Danilo Ballotta, EMCDDA.
Project run by the Institute and the University to understand the types of young people to be able to prepare personalised prevention. Which substance use-related subgroups of young adults were identified in earlier studies? Five groups were identified: no substance; alcohol; plus tobacco and marijuana; plus ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamine and hallucinogens; plus prescriptive medicines. The same research was done interviewing young people. This led to identifying 14 subgroups varying on preferred substance, reasons for use, context of use and intention to reduce or quit.
Gilberto Gerra: Personalisation of prevention is important because we need to see people as persons, not as a statistic number.
Danilo Ballotta: Especially for young people, effective prevention interventions cannot ignore personality traits and environmental context. EU adopted the approach that prevention is not substance focused. EU doesn’t have a programme for nightlife setting.
Other side events
Notes about some interesting side events are available:
The criminal justice role in the implementation of drug policies in a human rights perspective
The event, organized by the Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network presented a model of alternative measures offered to people who use drugs.
We heard about the project “REDES” – Social inclusion in crime and drug use prevention – which is a response to harsh situation in Brazil. Law enforcement structures launched “Custody Hearings Project” which ensures a quick presentation to the judge, a maximum 24 hours after the arrest. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation was part of the partnerships that developed the project. It provides a support network: health, social assistance, human rights, personal identification documents, housing, work and others. Those who are charged for drug use pass through the process and are granted liberty. They are addressed to the social services providers. One of the most important results is improved sensibility of the judges.
Special event: Strengthening the global prevention response: International standards for drug use prevention – second edition, listen first campaign and stronger families programme
This special event was organized by the Governments of France, Norway and the United States of America, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Drug Prevention and Health Branch, and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs.
The high-level representatives of organising institutions from France, USA, Norway and Mexico spoke about the role of evidence-based prevention in strengthening the global response and the role of civil society in supporting evidence based prevention.
Giovanna Campello, Officer in Charge, Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, presented the UNODC and WHO Second Updated Edition of the International Standards on drug prevention (LINK NA http://vngoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Concept-note-2017-International-Standards-Update.pdf). Dr Virginia Molgaard and Dr Alaa Al Khani presented “Strong Families” – a new UNODC programme for families in low- and middle income families, including refugee families (LINK NA https://www.unodc.org/ropan/en/DrugDemandReduction/strong-families.html). The first 2018 video the “Listen First” campaign was released.
HIV prevention, treatment care and support for people who use stimulants
This event was organized by the Government of Romania and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime HIV/AIDS Section.
Romania showcased their experience with stimulants, which they simply call new psychoactive substances. We think that it is not quite good connection. Other speakers, Monica Beg, Chief of the HIV/AIDS Section, UNODC, Judy Chang, Executive Director, INPUD, Brun Gonzales, Mexico and Ukrainian activist spoke more about actual new substances.
The right to science and freedom of research with scheduled substances
This interesting side event dealt with conventions and the current barriers regarding research with scheduled substances, as well as present cutting edge scientific research on the therapeutic use of scheduled substances, such as cannabis, MDMA, psilocybin and ibogaine, as treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and problematic substance use. The full video of the side event is bellow.
Other side events
Notes about some interesting side events are available:
The Vienna Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) held its General Assembly on 15 March. A new Board was elected, with our good friend Jamie Bridge serving as the Chairperson. DPNSEE paid the membership fee and hope to complete the membership process soon.
The 61st session, chaired by Ambassador Alicia Buenrostro Massieu of Mexico, agreed 11 resolutions on various topics among them enhancing international cooperation to combat the synthetic opioid crisis, removing stigma as a barrier to the availability and delivery of health, care and social services for people who use drugs, and on preparations for the planned ministerial segment at the 2019 session. The first ever resolution of stigma and discrimination of people who use drugs is a great step forward!
“Ministerial segment” refers to high level meeting of ministers – a very important meeting that will be held as part of the CND next year. Some very important fights and decisions are expected. This CND indicated that there will be a lot of disagreements between those who still believe in rigid repressive approach and those who think that modern and innovative solutions are needed. Civil society organisations were very active in promoting the later, working hard around the meeting to promote it.
The Commission also agreed to schedule six analogues of fentanyl, including carfentanil, under the international drug control conventions. Abuse of fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, has led to thousands of overdose deaths around the world.
More than 1.500 participants from Member States, inter-governmental organizations, academia, civil society and the private sector took part in the session.
The CND was an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues and partners. We used it to share with Alexis Goosdeel, Director of the EMCDDA, Daniel Wolfe, director of International Harm Reduction Development and Matthew Wilson, Global Drug Policy Program, Open society Foundations, Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications and Juan Fernandez Ochoa, Campaigns and Communications Officer, IDPC, Jose Queiros, Executive Director APDES, Portugal, Thomas Bridgen, Grants Coordinator, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Framework, John-Peter Kools and Daan van der Gouwe, Trimbos Instituut, Dr Claire Mawditt, Secretary of Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) and Matej Košir from Institute for Research and Development “Utrip”, Slovenia.
Interesting and important exchange was held with heads of national agencies responsible for drugs: Milan Pekić from Serbia, Željko Petković from Croatia, Ognjen Zekić from Bosnia Herzegovina and Catalin Negoi-Nita from Romania.
With our colleagues from Diogenis Thanasis Apostolou, Sofia Galinaki and Olga Pateraki, we had very good information share and some concrete agreements for future events.
Use of social marketing in promoting online interventions
The event offered by the Governments of Croatia and Finland, the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section.
Chair of the session was Elena Hedoux, Programme Manager of the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe; opening remarks were given by Gilberto Gerra, Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch, UNODC and speakers were Mirka Vainikka, Executive Director of “Free from Drugs“, Thomas Kattau, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe and Marko Markus from the Office for Combating Drugs Abuse of the Government of the Republic of Croatia.
Interesting points from the presentations include:
Gilberto Gerra: Instead of selling something, companies work on changing behaviour. It doesn’t end with companies speaking only to customers, but customers start speaking with each other. We need to explore how to reach psychonauts 2 (an upcoming platform video game being built on the success of a classic action/adventure platformer; it is an example of a crowdfunding campaign to create a sequel of the success of the initial game)
Thomas Kattau: If you invest in on-line tools, you need to invest in marketing these tools. Companies have much more money to invest into (social) marketing than public institutions (not to talk about civil society – our comment).
Marko Markus: presented the work of the Office using a Facebook webpage and a special page drughelp.eu. He underlined that 90% of people who are in need never asked for help!
The Government of Bulgaria and the European Union hosted the event to discuss connection between drugs and darknet, a largely anonymous platform for trading a range of illicit goods and service. Chair of the event Svetoslav Spassov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN introduced the issue reminding participants that it is estimated that around 2/3 of the offers on darknet are drug related. The accessibility and quick adaptability of on-line markets pose a growing threat.
Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA Director presented facts from the recent report which shows extreme growth of criminal actions on Internet and darknet especially. EMCDDA discovered in several cases that what was sold was what was promoted. There is a good system of rating the products and sellers. Most of the traffic are done in Germany, UK and The Netherlands. Most of the products are non-cocaine stimulants and new psychoactive substances. Alphabay grew very fast since creation in December 2014 and in two years traffic there was twice bigger than the one of the pioneer Silk Road (which was closed by law enforcement in 2017). Due to anonymity, there is no wholesale at darknet because of the risk connected.
Liamonas Vasiliauskas from the Operations Directorate, Europol confirmed that many vendors offer a variety of drugs. Monthly revenue of 8 major criminal groups on darknet is 10 – 12 million Euro. What Europol don’t know are drug sources, chemicals and equipment, money flows, role of organised crime, etc. Due to darknet, regular post package services grew significantly in recent years. Most of the EU countries don’t have a specific darknet investigation team – Europol designed a model of establishing one. FBI, DEA and Dutch Police closed two networks in operations Bayonet (Silk Road) and GraveSac (Hansa). Europol don’t have information if this seizure of networks caused decrease of traffic or the market quickly recovered.
Peter Mihoc from the European Commission added that one of the main issues is the knowledge gap. Another is lack of equipment needed for operations of law enforcement agencies.
Law enforcement and sustainable drug use prevention
The event was chaired by John Redman, Society for the Advancement of Global Understanding, while panelists included commander Juan Antonio Cano Carrasco, representative of the Spanish Army, Angelo Lange, local law enforcement in Milano, Italy, Dr Christian Mirre, biologist, Foundation for a Drug Free Europe.
Interesting points from the presentations include:
John Redman: Spoke about a success of fighting meth problem in Southern California in cooperation between law enforcement and people from communities, including those from Mexico.
Juan Antonio Cano Carrasco: They operate as the part of society – and respond to the needs of it. Army is included in the national action plan against drugs. All three Army (VID) are involved: infantry, navy and air forces and coordination is typical army one. Most efforts invest in prevention, working towards a drug free world. Drug tests are performed when joining the army but also regularly, both to officer and all the military (all army is professional). They also have a program of informing their military. They invest in creating a favourable environment so that they don’t get interest to use drugs. One element of the programme is cooperation with communities, on all levels, which includes training, information sharing and free time activities of the military.
Angelo Lange: Drug is being sold by people of all different kinds. Milano experienced a dramatic increase of cocaine traffic in 2007. National Police created a special unit, who were not in uniforms to fight the problem in every possible environment. They made a success thanks to anonymous reports from citizens and trust they built with people, including drug users. On contrary they do prevention in a social context. He published a book “Life in dust: drogues, fuck you” in 2010 and a year earlier he recorded a movie “Sbiri” (Caps, in slang). In 2016, a mural was created through a competition of teams reflecting on his book. Also, a theatrical play was set on the basis of his and another author.
Christian Mirre: 1.117 US Police departments adopted a partnership program on drug prevention. The same happened in the Czech Republic, South Africa and several other countries. They prepared a curriculum package material translated already in 17 languages.
Other side events
Notes about some interesting side events are available: