WHO Accepts New Guidelines on Psychoactive Substances for International Control

January 25, 2010

By James R. Phelps

By a series of treaties, the nations of the world have given the United Nations (“UN”) a significant role in the development of systems of regulation of substances, including vitally needed medicines, that might be abused.  The World Health Organization (“WHO”) provides the medical and scientific recommendations for control of these medicines that the UN will make, and which the nations are committed to follow.  So the UN decisions concerning these substances have very real consequences and the WHO recommendations are critical to the process.

The WHO review of substances for potential regulation is in the hands of expert committees that make recommendations that the agency usually accepts without change.  Last week the executive board of WHO accepted a new set of guidelines – lugubriously called “Guidance on the WHO review of psychoactive substances for international control: proposed revision” – that those committees will use in arriving at their recommendations.  This is an important development.

The new guidelines direct WHO to assure that the committees use peer-reviewed reports in their deliberations.  They provide that interested parties will have an opportunity to participate in the process to present data.  They also provide that WHO will make the reports and recommendations of the committees available for public review.  In short, the new guidelines are a significant step toward ensuring a comprehensive review of substances that may be subject to international control and creation of the kind of processes and protections that are found in the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act. 

Adoption of these new guidelines helps to improve the ability of WHO to discharge its duties with a firmer scientific and medical base.

Members of this firm actively participated in development of the guidelines.