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UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Remarks at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Segment

William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Vienna, Austria
March 13, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission
It is a pleasure to join you all today.

Protecting our citizens from the harmful consequences of illegal drugs and transnational criminal organizations is a shared responsibility.

There is consensus around the goals: public health; citizen security; rule of law. How we achieve them will engage our governments leading up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs.

The three drug conventions are the starting point. Their goals – facilitating access to medicine, protecting citizens from the consequences of harmful drugs – are universally acknowledged. As is the important role of civil society in achieving them.

The international drug control system is not perfect. Some argue the conventions cannot handle problems this big and complex. I respectfully disagree: over the decades, these conventions have been flexible and resilient, evolving to help member states grapple with these challenges. We believe it is more prudent to advance evidence-based reform within the framework of the conventions than to embrace unproven ideas that undercut the system and risk greater drug abuse. We welcome the chance to discuss reform at this CND and during preparations for the 2016 UNGASS.

The United States enters this dialogue with three lessons in mind:
First, historic neuroscience advances prove addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated. We must look at what drives individuals to use drugs, identify ways to prevent drug use before it begins, and expand access to treatment. We will share examples of effective practices with partners facing similar challenges, while supporting capacity-building and training for drug prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery.

Second, we need a holistic approach to combat the criminal orgs who wreak havoc on communities. It is not our task to incarcerate everyone who consumes drugs, but to take down the multinational criminal enterprises that profit from them. Criminal networks thrive in underserved spaces. But when the criminal justice system and the treatment community work in tandem, when we provide alternatives to incarceration, we can stop the revolving door of criminal justice and save lives. Alternative development is another tool for helping good governance and prosperity take root.

Third, international cooperation among UN member states is essential. New psychoactive substances are an excellent example. As many as 200 new uncontrolled substances hit the market just this year, posing public health and law enforcement challenges to all. Member states have developed mechanisms to share information and responses to protect our citizens from these substances, demonstrating the value of the drug conventions, the UNODC, the WHO, and the INCB.

A focus on public health and the science of addiction; an innovative approach to criminal justice; and a commitment to international cooperation. These ladies and gentlemen are the future of drug policy. The three drug conventions provide the framework for this holistic, balanced approach to reducing the global drug problem.

We look to the future, our efforts must be guided by reason, evidence, and – above all – a common desire to safeguard the health and well-being of our citizens.

That is a formula for success, ladies and gentlemen. And succeed we shall, because succeed we must.


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