By The Global Commission on Drug Policy. Ninety-two percent of the world’s supply of morphine is consumed by just 17 percent of the global population, with consumption primarily concentrated in the global north. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s population does not have access to any pain reliving drugs. That is to say, that most people, in late stages of cancers, enduring severe forms of acute or chronic pain, simply do not have access to pain relief, despite these medicines being included in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.

The reasons for this have little to do with issues of cost or scarcity of supplies- and everything to do with the prohibition and repressive stand the world has taken on drugs. States are obsessed by the fear that people will use controlled medicines, such as morphine as drugs, thereby neglecting the important medical uses.

Former UN Secretary General and Global Commission member, Kofi Annan, highlights that”under current drug control policies, African access to essential medication for pain management is highly restricted. We know that 90 percent of morphine is prescribed in North America and Europe. In many developing countries, patients with terminal cancer suffer needlessly because doctors cannot prescribe medication due to the misapplication or misunderstanding of the UN drug conventions. But we must make sure that access to the essential medicines on the WHO model lists does not become a casualty of the “war on drugs”. I hope that evidence-based decision making on drug policies will prevail.”

The provision of opioid substitution therapy (OST)  such as methadone and buprenorphine, which are also on the WHO List of Essential Medicines for people with heroin dependence, is similarly affected by this imbalance in the international drug control system and demonstrates the failure of the international drug control system. Former United Nations Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover noted that, “the most effective treatments for opiate dependence, are controlled, essential medicines, which if administered daily, reduce the craving for illicit drugs and enable people to lead a life of dignity”.

The upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs taking place in New York in  April 2016, has several possible outcomes, with Former Brazilian president and Chair of the Global Commission, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, noting that “countries have a responsibility to ensure access to controlled essential medicines. The technical, medical and scientific tools exist, but there is a need for political will to end this avoidable pain.”

Guaranteeing the medical and scientific use of controlled medicines has been forgotten within current drug policies, but this can be corrected through the proper measures. “The international drug control system is broken, and human sufferance is not taken into consideration because of this imbalance,”said Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland. “The UNGASS provides a key opportunity where Member States can agree that ensuring access  to essential medicines is a priority and provide the proper resources and power to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to make it possible.”

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