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Directing Council Endorses Public Health Approach to Psychoactive Substance Use

Delegates to the 51st Directing Council endorsed a regional plan of action that defines the issue of psychoactive substance as a public health priority.

The Plan of Action on Psychoactive Substance Use and Public Health seeks to reduce the burden associated with substance use disorders and promotes an integrated public health response.



The plan proposes lines of action that focus on prevention, screening, early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, social reintegration, and support services.

The prevalence of drug use, especially among youth and other vulnerable groups, varies greatly, but in general is concentrated in urban areas. In addition to alcohol and tobacco, the substances most widely used in the Americas are cannabis, cocaine, and volatile solvents. There is also growing nonmedical use of psychotropic substances.

The new regional plan stresses the need to improve access to health services; promote the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities; and promote and protect the right of all persons to the enjoyment of the highest degree possible of mental and physical health.

In 2010, PAHO’s 50th Directing Council approved a regional public health strategy to respond to problems associated with the use of psychoactive substances in the Americas. The new plan of action will address each of the strategy’s five areas of action: development of national policies and resource allocation; promotion of universal prevention; early intervention, care, support services and treatment systems; research, monitoring, and evaluation; and development of strategic partnerships.

Most countries in the Region have a limited number of health professionals and services specialized in substance use, resulting in significant treatment gaps. The most feasible way to improve treatment coverage is to integrate prevention and treatment services for substance use disorders into health and social welfare systems based on primary health care, and to work with the criminal justice system. Professionals and nonprofessionals working in this area need training to be able to provide adequate care.

At the same time, psychotropic medications need to be appropriately prescribed and regulated in order to significantly reduce their nonmedical use and increase their availability when and where they are needed.

The approved plan of action urges countries to develop and implement national and subnational plans, with PAHO/WHO support, and calls on PAHO/WHO to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the regional plan.

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