Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

A patient in a hospital in Cambodia is given some pain killers. Photo: World Bank/Masaru Goto

London, 3 March 2015 – Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

To achieve a balanced and integrated approach to the drug problem, Governments also should ensure that demand reduction is one of the first priorities of their drug control policies, while they should put greater emphasis on and provide support and appropriate resources to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, the Report says.

Among the rest of the Report’s findings were an increase in the number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) by 11 per cent and a 66 per cent increase in global consumption of methylphenidate, a stimulant primarily used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Report also pointed out that the legalization of production, distribution, sale and consumption of cannabis and its derivatives for recreational purposes in Uruguay, together with the moves by States in the United States to legalise sale and distribution of cannabis for non-medical purposes, ran counter to article 4 of the 1961 Single Convention on narcotic drugs, which requires States to limit the use of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes.