Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur
United Nations General Assembly
August 2010

A65_225The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug-free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.

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People who use drugs may be deterred from accessing services owing to the threat of criminal punishment, or may be denied access to health care altogether. Criminalization and excessive law enforcement practices also undermine health-promotion initiatives, perpetuate stigma and increase health risks to which entire populations — not only those who use drugs — may be exposed. Certain countries incarcerate people who use drugs, impose compulsory treatment upon them, or both. The current international drug control regime also unnecessarily limits access to essential medications, which violates the enjoyment of the right to health.

The primary goal of the international drug control regime, as set forth in the preamble of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), is the “health and welfare of mankind”, but the current approach to controlling drug use and possession works against that aim. Widespread implementation of interventions that reduce harms associated with drug use — harm-reduction initiatives — and of decriminalization of certain laws governing drug control would improve the health and welfare of people who use drugs and the general population demonstrably. Moreover, the United Nations entities and Member States should adopt a right to health approach to drug control, encourage system-wide coherence and communication, incorporate the use of indicators and guidelines, and consider developing a new legal framework concerning certain illicit drugs, in order to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are respected, protected and fulfilled.


Member States should:

•    Ensure that all harm-reduction measures (as itemized by UNAIDS) and drug-dependence treatment services, particularly opioid substitution therapy, are available to people who use drugs, in particular those among incarcerated populations.

•    Decriminalize or de-penalize possession and use of drugs.

•    Repeal or substantially reform laws and policies inhibiting the delivery of essential health services to drug users, and review law enforcement initiatives around drug control to ensure compliance with human rights obligations.

•    Amend laws, regulations and policies to increase access to controlled essential medicines.

The United Nations drug control bodies should:

•    Integrate human rights into the response to drug control in laws, policies and programmes.

•    Encourage greater communication and dialogue between United Nations entities with an interest in the impact of drug use and markets, and drug control policies and programmes.

•    Consider creation of a permanent mechanism, such as an independent commission, through which international human rights actors can contribute to the creation of international drug policy, and monitor national implementation, with the need to protect the health and human rights of drug users and the communities they live in as its primary objective.

•    Formulate guidelines that provide direction to relevant actors on taking a human rights-based approach to drug control, and devise and promulgate rights-based indicators concerning drug control and the right to health.

•    Consider creation of an alternative drug regulatory framework in the long term, based on a model such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.