UNGASS 2016: Side event: Addressing global disparities in access to controlled substances for medical purposes, with focus on treatment and pain relief

Ministers, Excellencies, panelists, ladies and gentlemen,

The topic of this side-event is an important one, and it is an honor and pleasure to represent one of the countries organizing it together with important international partner institutions. Let me particularly thank the government of Australia and their mission in Vienna for the leading role they have played in the preparations to this side-event.

Previous speakers have amply illustrated the huge gaps that exist between countries when it comes to vital access to controlled substances for medical purposes. I use the term vital, based on the experience and policies in my own country.

We depend on these controlled substances in our palliative care, to alleviate pain and help promote dignity for the individual and their families. We depend on these controlled substances to alleviate pain linked to a series of grave illnesses and as part of the healing process. We depend on these substances to treat mental and neurological illnesses.

In addition, like other countries, we use these substances for scientific purposes. Let me be more concrete, cancer is on the rise all over the world. This means that the need for palliative care is on the rise, making the need for pain relief and treatment ever more important.

The UNGASS outcome document does reflect these needs in a good manner, but we would have liked to have stronger language in some areas.

In particular, we regret that it was not possible to get concrete wording pertaining to the need to access controlled substances in the treatment of mental and neurological illnesses. However, the text as it stands does represent an important step forward and a good basis to continue this important work.

In the implementation of the outcome document, we believe the focus should be on reviewing the regulatory frameworks of countries and training health-care professionals. We need to improve regulations in such a way that they can cater for the medical needs that these controlled substances address.

We need to make sure that when doing so, access is not limited to big cities, but also cover rural and sparsely populated areas. This will reduce and eliminate existing inequalities within countries.

Experience from Norway shows that we can provide such access without creating dependencies.

The outcome document on access also refers to “affordability”. Affordable and reliable medicines are indeed of great importance and key topics in the work of the WHO. In addition, we have institutions like GAVI, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and UNITAID, were affordability is central to the work.

For decades, Norway has been a major contributor to these institutions. However, when it comes to the controlled substances referred to in the outcome document, the bulk of these are no longer patented and are available at very low cost.

Furthermore, there are important fears and prejudices that need to be overcome to achieve our goals. These fears and prejudices relate to mental health disorders and end of life situations.

Access is a key area when addressing the world drug problem. Our ambition is to close existing gaps. This requires close cooperation between the WHO and UNODC, as well as strong and coordinated commitment by governments, in particular as regards health and justice authorities.

I thank you.