Charting a new global course for dealing with illicit drug use

Matthew TenBruggencate - Unsplash


Charting a new global course for dealing with illicit drug use

28 May 2024
Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch

This year’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna marked a significant shift in policy when it agreed to focus on drug use as a public health issue that required an approach of harm reduction. This stance moves from the criminalization of drug use and brings the commission in line with the approach of the UN General Assembly, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the UN Office of Human Rights, all of which revised their policies a decade or more ago.

The annual meeting of the CND, as it’s known, helps set the direction of drug policy for UN member states, and in previous years it reflected the position of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, its parent entity. The focus was on suppressing the use of drugs and policing, which has not been successful, and I’ve been advocating for more than two decades for an evidence-based approach to address drug production and use.

The CND reached this new policy partly by discarding its past agreement that all its decisions need to be reached by consensus (the so-called “Vienna spirit”) and held votes on the resolutions for the first time. This allowed the shift to a harm-reduction policy, a term that was excluded from resolutions because of opposition from the handful of countries committed to the criminal justice approach.