58th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Intervention by Senator the Hon Fiona Nash
Assistant Minister for Health
Interactive Discussion on ensuring the availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion
10 March 2015
Chair and panel members, thank you for the opportunity to engage in this important interactive discussion of high level segments to be held during the Special Session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in 2016.
Australia is deeply concerned about the global disparity in access to controlled substances for medical purposes.
As Dr Naidoo mentioned in his comments to the Plenary yesterday morning, and reiterated at the side-event sponsored by Australia on increasing access to controlled substances for medical purposes, the fundamental basis of the international drug control treaties is a recognition that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes.
And yet, for so many people in the world, such provision is not possible. Data from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) show that high-income countries, which comprise 17 per cent of the global population, account for 92% of global medical morphine consumption. Low- and middle-income countries, comprising 83% of the global population, account for only 8% of global medical morphine consumption.
This is why Australia has been very pleased to support the work of the UNODC, in cooperation with the WHO and the Union for International Cancer Control, on this important issue. We also recognise the crucial role of the INCB on this issue and the steps being taken by national governments.
The pilot programs, in part funded by Australia, on controlled access to controlled substances in Ghana, and more recently in Timor-Leste, have shown that it is possible to overcome the complex set of barriers to accessing controlled drugs.
Australia would encourage all member states to consider how we can work together to reduce the global disparity in access to controlled substances for medical purposes, and to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering. No one here today would like to think about the possibility of their family or colleagues dying in extreme pain, when that pain could so easily be alleviated.
We should work together to ensure that the international drug control treaties are not interpreted in ways that present barriers to access essential medicines, but that we can provide controlled access to alleviate pain and suffering, while reducing the risk of diversion to illicit use.
I would like to conclude with a question to the panel members: Given the almost universal recognition of the global disparity in access to controlled substances for medical purposes, what can we, as member states, international organisations and civil society, collectively do together to further reduce systemic and regulatory barriers to legitimate access to controlled medications to alleviate pain and suffering, while reducing the risk of diversion to illicit use?