Harm Reduction and the
International Drug Control
Allan Clear, Heather Haase, Anistla Rugama
Harm Reduction Coalition, New York, NY
Harm Reduction and the
International Drug Control System
International Drug Control System
•Has its history in the 1912 Hague Opium Convention
and the treaties negotiated after that in the League of
Nations era
•System was initially intended to control the flow of
licit medicines but grew to include prohibiting the
“illicit” use of substances
•Current global drug control system is administered
under the United Nations under three international
drug control treaties
What is an international treaty?
Multilateral or bilateral
Self-executing vs. non-selfexecuting
Interpretation and Binding effect
Three International drug law treaties
1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs
(as amended by the 1972 Protocol)
1971 Convention on Psychotropic
1988 Convention against Illicit
Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances
1961 Single Convention
•The “bedrock” of the international drug
control system
•limits the “production, manufacture, export,
import, distribution of, trade in, use and
possessions of” opiates, cannabis and cocaine
to “medicinal and scientific purposes”
•established the International Narcotics
Control Board (the “INCB”) as watchdog to
monitor compliance
•Established the scheduling system
1971 Single Convention on Psychotropic
enacted in response to drug use in the 60s
added certain synthetic, prescription, and
hallucinogens (LSD) to the list of scheduled
1988 Convention Against Illicit
•adopted in response to the increase in drug
•required member countries, for the first time, to
criminalize possession for personal consumption,
but does not specify enforcement or punishment
•specifically states that its implementation should
be accompanied by prudence and is subject to the
“constitutional principles and basic concepts of
[each countries’] legal system”
Purpose of the treaties
•Concern for the “health and welfare of
mankind” in preamble
•Dual purpose of the treaties is to reduce the
availability of drugs for illicit use, while ensuring
adequate availability for medical use
•Over time, this balance became distorted as the
system evolved based on the principle that
reducing availability of drugs for illicit use could
only be achieved through penal enforcement of
predominantly prohibition-oriented measures
The international drug treaties, cont.
Who are the member countries
(signatories) to the treaties?
Are the treaties enforceable?
Why do countries adhere to the
treaties (and what are the
consequences if they don’t)?
What some people think of the treaties…
Criticisms of the treaties
• Deaths from violence associated with
• High incarceration rates
• Human rights abuses
• Lack of health care or intervention
measures (such as OD prevention) for drug
• High HIV rates through injection drug use
Common Treaty Myths…
What is allowed under the treaties?
Allowed or “gray” area:
•Non-enforcement (Netherlands)
•Decriminalization (Portugal)
•Medicalization (Switzerland, U.S.)
•Many harm reduction measures
Not allowed:
•Legalization for recreational use
UN Resolutions
What are Resolutions?
• Formal Recommendations of CND to
member countries
• Binding vs. nonbinding
• Interpretive guidance
• Act as precedent
• Forms “customary” law
Treatment of harm reduction measures
under the treaties
•Overdose prevention
•Maintenance therapies (Methadone,
buprenorphine and heroin prescription)
•Syringe Exchange & syringe access
Not allowed (according to INCB):
•Safe Injection Spaces
•Pill testing
UN Drug Control Bodies
•Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)
–Delegates from 53 countries
–meets every year to review the policies enacted under the
treaties and to guide future policy
–Adopts “resolutions” and “political declarations” concerning
drug policy
•UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
–Implements programs based on policies enacted by CND
–Has its own budget for drug-related programs
•Int’l Narcotics Control Board (INCB)
–Acts as “guardian” or “watchdog” of the treaties
–Issues reports on various countries’ compliance (e.g., safe
injection sites, “drug tourism” and medical marijuana)
What is CND?
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs
is the central drug policy-making
body within the United Nations
system, with important functions
under the three international drug
law treaties.
What is CND?
“CND” also refers to the yearly meeting
held in Vienna each year
•attended by large group of NGOs and
governmental delegates
•network, exchange information
•influence international law and policy
•learn about the UN system and keep up
with developments under the treaties
Who Attends CND?
Government delegations
NGOs from around the world
What do governmental delegates do at CND?
• Introduce resolutions to the CND
• Participate in formal policy discussions in
• Side events
• Debate resolutions behind closed doors
• Argue resolutions on the floor
• Diplomacy/alliances
What do NGOs do at CND?
Influence delegates “in the hallways”
Put on side events on various topics
Distribute literature
Participate in roundtable discussions
Ask public questions during “informal
dialogue” sessions
• Observe proceedings and report back
home through social media, reports,
articles, etc.
Drug Lords Celebrate the Drug War at the UN
What happens at CND?
Opening session
Statements from leaders
Statements from governmental
Formal Sessions- Plenary and the CoW
Debate and adopt resolutions
Roundtable discussions
Informal sessions -- “side events”
Gearing up for opening sessions
Yury Fedotov,
Executive Director of UNODC
Evo Morales’ line of coca leaf products
Side events
• Presented by NGOs and governments
• Usually discuss some current aspect of drug policy
last year OD prevention, Count the Costs,
Bolivian coca leaf
This year Global Commission on Drug Policy,
Latin America, 100 Year Anniversary of the
1912 Hague Opium Convention, Future of the
International Conventions
• Informal “dialogue” with heads of INCB, UNODC and
Informal Dialogue with former
INCB President Hamid Ghodse
How to create change?
Reform of the current system
• Modification/amendment
• Denunciation/disregard
• Withdraw and re-accede with
Reform within the current system
• Influence delegations
• Push for broader interpretation
• Introduce/promote/support UN
Examples of Recent Progress made in Harm
Reduction through Resolutions at CND
• HIV resolutions
• Political Declaration 2009
• Civil Society Resolution 2011
• Overdose Resolution 2012
Revised Draft Political Declaration
Civil Society Resolution
Resolution 54/11 – Improving the participatory role of civil society in addressing the
world drug problem
•Encourages Member States to ensure that civil society plays a participatory role, where
appropriate, through consultation, in the development and implementation of drug
control programmes and policies, in particular with regard to aspects of demand
•Also encourages Member States to cultivate an environment that promotes innovation
and to take into account promising approaches taken by civil society to assist
Governments in their efforts to address the world drug problem,
•Further encourages Member States to provide to the United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime, in the context of the fifty-fifth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs,
their experiences in working with civil society in United Nations forums and to provide
suggestions … with a view to improving the participatory role of civil society in
addressing the world drug problem,
Overdose Resolution
•Major victory for harm reduction at CND
•OD resolution
–Encourages member states to effective elements for the
prevention and treatment of drug overdose in national drug
–Requests UNODC and WHO to collect and circulate best
practices including the use of naloxone, to provide member
states with guidance, and to include initiatives on OD
prevention as part of their drug demand reduction
–Invites member states and donors to provide funding
•Process of passing a resolution
What does all this mean for Int’l
and U.S. Reform?
•Political Declaration: created a dialogue about harm reduction and ultimately
opened the door for reform
•Resolution 54/11: Civil society will have more opportunities to influence the
UNODC, INCB and delegates at CND at the international level
•Resolution 55/7 OD Prevention:
–UNODC can now fund OD programs throughout the world
–Member states will have official guidance on OD prevention, especially
–The White House ONDCP’s changed attitude towards overdose measures
including Naloxone can result in more acceptance (and funding) for
domestic programs
What can you do?
Attend CND if you can
• Develop a presence
• Network/collaborate with
international organizations
• Influence delegations behind the
• Distribute literature
• Report back home
From home
• Follow CND through social
• Learn about the UN process
and write about it
• Reach out to international
For more information
For more information on the international drug control
For podcasts about CND 2012:
For information on overdose prevention:
Allan Clear
[email protected]
Heather Haase
[email protected]
Anistla Rugama
[email protected]

Harm Reduction and the International Drug Control System