Statement to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 58th Session, Vienna

Publié: 13 mars 2015

General debate on the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in 2016

Statement by Dr Massimo Barra, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Thank you Mr Chairman for giving an opportunity to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to address the 58th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. We note with satisfaction that there is an increased understanding of drug addiction as a public health issue. Over the last decade, the IFRC has been advocating, also in this forum, for what we refer to as a humanitarian drug policy. We see that states have begun calling for new and better approaches to tackle the drug problem and this is evident from the preparations leading up to UNGASS in 2016.

People dependent on drugs are among the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in the world. Yet, instead of being met with understanding and provided with equitable access to treatment and care – drug users remain excluded from society, face social stigma, are punished, imprisoned and discriminated against. They continue to face serious health consequences; for example, almost half of all drug users are infected with Hepatitis C.

For those infected by Hepatitis C virus, 2015 marks a turning point – we finally have new treatment available which can cure the disease. Millions of people can now win the fight against this virus. Governments need to seriously consider distributing the new anti-Hepatitis C medication to all in need. We need to remind ourselves of the successful strategy that was initiated to fight HIV some decades ago. Different partners, including the Global Fund needs to embark on the same path and consider broadening their mandates to include Hepatitis C alongside their efforts in making HIV, TB and malaria, diseases of the past.

Another important point I would like to make; it is estimated that between 56 and 90 per cent of people who use drugs face imprisonment at some point during their life. They have poor access to the much needed services and their human rights are continually breached. I think we all agree that this is not acceptable: People using drugs should be treated as persons with an illness and not as criminals or sinners!

Regrettably, the funding for programmes supporting drug users has fallen dangerously short over the past decade. It is in the interest of all governments to accept and extend a caring hand towards people using drugs instead of rejecting them. Addressing the humanitarian needs of drug users is an important step leading to their empowerment and recovery. While a well-known drug user is perceived as a problematic person, dangerous to himself and others, an unknown drug user is twice as dangerous. It is in our common and universal interest to reach out to all drug users and provide them with the necessary care and support. While this is a massive undertaking, with good political will this is not an impossible task. We need a different cultural approach whereby we underline the health challenges and priorities and work towards the decriminalization of drug users.

Mr Chairman, today we would like to take this opportunity and call upon governments to ensure equitable access to treatment and care. We also call upon governments to implement effective measures to reduce health risks and promote social inclusion, at all times, including in disaster and crisis situations. However, in order to meet this, additional resources are required.

On our part, the IFRC pledges to actively address the problem of substance abuse from a humanitarian perspective. With a global presence in 189 countries and through its unique network of 17 million volunteers and auxiliary role to public authorities, we are ready to intensify operational interaction and to collaborate with governmental institutions, different partners and stakeholders, as well as with media and the private sector in promoting the concept and good practices of a more humanitarian drug policy.

We urge the governments to initiate a policy change and support us in this endeavour.

Thank you!