UN Addresses Worldwide Controlled Substance Issues

March 18, 2010

By John A. Gilbert

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (“CND”) held its 53rd meeting last week in Vienna, Austria. This meeting routinely coincides with the publication of the International Narcotics Control Board’s (“INCB’s”) annual report.  The INCB report provides an annual summary of the status of compliance with the international drug control treaties.  Highlights of the 2009 INCB report include concerns about the increase in prescription drug abuse, especially in the United States, and that increased consumption of narcotic drugs may be a source of increased diversion. The INCB also stated that diversion of precursor substances used in the illicit manufacture of controlled drugs had also increased and noted that among legitimate drugs, stimulants, benzodiazepines and buprenorphine were substances most often reported diverted and abused. The Board singled out buprenorphine for an expanded discussion of reports of abuse and requested countries to reexamine whether current control measures were adequate to prevent diversion and abuse of this drug.  The Board also expressed continued concern over the abuse of drugs in committing sexual assaults.

At the CND meeting discussions centered on ways to improve compliance by all member states in reducing demand and supply of illicit drugs and ongoing concerns about abuse of precursor drugs such as phenylacetic acid.  The CND adopted a resolution to move phenylacetic acid from Table II to Table I of the 1988 Convention thereby requiring additional licensing, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for use of this chemical.  Phenylacetic acid has been increasing reported as being used in the illicit manufacturing of methamphetamine.  

The CND considered numerous resolutions to strengthen drug control.  An important resolution adopted by the CND involved "Promoting adequate availability of internationally controlled licit drugs for medical and scientific purposes while preventing their diversion and abuse."  The resolution was drafted by the United States and calls for countries, the INCB and WHO to ensure adequate availability of opiates for medical and scientific purposes, while working towards reducing the potential for diversion. The resolution also calls on the INCB to report on the progress of these efforts in its 2010 annual report and for the CND to consider this as an agenda item at its 54th meeting in March 2011.

The adoption of this resolution is a welcome recognition by the INCB and the CND of the continued problem of ensuring adequate supply of pain medicine in many parts of the world and the importance of considering the impact on medical availability in drug control decisions.