The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna will decide next week between two opposite proposals by China and the WHO about international control of ketamine, an essential anaesthetic in human and veterinary medicine. China originally proposed bringing ketamine under the 1971 Convention’s most severe control regime of Schedule I, which would dramatically affect its availability for surgery in poor rural settings and emergency situations. The WHO Expert Committee reviewed all the evidence and advised against any international control of ketamine, arguing it would trigger a public health disaster.
China is proposing there should be a worldwide ban on ketamine - the class B drug that can lead to users needing to have their bladders removed. But ketamine is used as an anaesthetic drug in much of Africa, and there are fears further international controls could affect medical usage too.
The UN Commission considers to bring ketamine under the control of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances contrary to WHO recommendations. The 58th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2015 has been asked to consider a Chinese proposal to place ketamine – an essential medicine used for anaesthesia – in Schedule I of the 1971 Convention (E/CN.7/2015/7 and E/CN.7/2015/81). Ketamine is the only available anaesthetic for essential surgery in most rural areas of developing countries, home to more than 2 billion of the world’s people. Scheduling ketamine under any of the 1971 treaty schedules will reduce its availability and further deepen the already acute crisis of global surgery.
Ketamine is an essential medicine used for anaesthesia. It is the only available anaesthetic for essential surgery in most rural areas of developing countries, home to more than 2 billion of the world’s people. Scheduling ketamine will leave these populations with no alternative anaesthesia for essential surgery, and will further deepen the already acute crisis of global surgery.
With the 2016 UNGASS on drugs in one year, it is time to recognize the policy landscape is shifting while tensions within the UN drug control system continue to grow. A slowly increasing number of governments is expressing their frustrations with the current international drug control framework, particularly Mexico and Colombia, countries that are suffering from violence related to drug markets, are calling for reflection and analysis in order to consider new options, some of which include regulatory measures.
The international drug control regime is facing the most profound challenge of its existence. Member states have for some time been experimenting with new responses to the ‘world drug problem’; however, the advent of legally regulated cannabis markets has resulted in a ratcheting up of these challenges to expose the system to new levels of strain. With the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem fast approaching, how will the international community make use of the opportunity it provides for a free and open debate?
The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs is fast approaching 2016 and is an important opportunity to conduct a thorough and objective assessment of the international drug control system. This session will discuss remaining challenges, as well as opportunities for the way forward – in particular towards rebalancing current drug policies towards the core UN values of public health, human rights and development
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the agency within the United Nations specialized in international public health; its primary objective is to facilitate the attainment of highest possible level of health among all peoples. The UN drug control treaties of 1961 and 1971 mandate the WHO to conduct scientific and medical review of substances proposed to be (re-)scheduled. The main role of the Expert Committee of Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the WHO, in this case, is to evaluate the medical properties of a particular substance in relation with its liability for abuse, while taking into account its medical purposes. Recently, for instance, the WHO recommended the re-scheduling of dronabinol from Schedule II to Schedule III of the 1971 Convention, and advised against the scheduling of ketamine.
David Bewley-Taylor, Martin Jelsma, Christopher Hallam
16 June 2014
Scheduling is mostly prioritised in its repressive pole, though present debates are increasingly highlighting the need to modify the balance of the system in order to affirm the importance of the principle of health.
David Nutt, Leslie A King, William Saulsbury, Colin Blakemore
24 March 2007
Drug misuse and abuse are major health problems. Harmful drugs are regulated according to classification systems that purport to relate to the harms and risks of each drug. However, the methodology and processes underlying classification systems are generally neither specified nor transparent, which reduces confidence in their accuracy and undermines health education messages.
This March, our video advocacy team attended the 58th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the largest drug policy gathering in the world, to find out how governments and NGOs feel about the prospects of drug policy reform. We produced a series of short thematic videos, to give you an overview of the current state of political debate on the burning issues of international drug control.
The dynamics of reform in the Americas continues. This time, the momentum comes from the Caribbean region. Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states are now moving to change their marijuana laws. Among the proposed changes discussed in Jamaica were the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja for recreational and religious use and cultivating it for medicinal purposes.
Drug law reform continues developing in the right direction in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. In Jamaica, for example, a law legalizing the cultivation and consumption of ganja for medicinal, religious and research purposes came into force, as well as the decriminalisation of possession for personal use. Jamaica also spoke out at the UN Thematic Debate in New York. On May 7th, the minister addressed the UN High Level Thematic Debate on international drug policy, highlighting Jamaica’s perspectives on drug control policies and participating in a debate that encourages open and inclusive discussions. Amongst the outcomes Jamaica would like to see from UNGASS is “the establishment of an Expert Advisory Group to review the UN drug policy control architecture, its system-wide coherence, its treaty inconsistencies and its legal tension with cannabis regulations.”