Health Leaders Pledge Action to Reduce Drug Abuse in Latin America and the Caribbean
Washington, D.C., September 28, 2010 (PAHO) — Health leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere today approved a new regional strategy to reduce harmful substance use and mitigate the negative health affects of such use, during the 50th Directing Council meeting of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The new Strategy on Substance use and Public Health focuses on prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, treatment, rehabilitation, social reintegration, and health systems management. By aiming to reduce the demand for substances, the strategy complements supply-control and related criminal justice efforts.
“Substance use is a very important issue that has an impact on economic and social development as well as violence and family stability,” said Dr. Luiz Galvão, Manager of PAHO’s Area of Sustainable Development and Environmental Health. “It is a much bigger issue than just health.”
While substance abuse is more common in developed countries of the Americas, it has a disproportionate impact on low- and middle-income countries. Harmful use of substances is often concentrated in urban areas and particularly affects youths and other vulnerable groups.
A variety of interventions have proved effective in addressing harmful substance use and dependence, among them medically supervised use of opioids for opioid dependence, needle exchange programs, and broad-based prevention programs that target teenagers across a variety of settings.
Despite the promise of these interventions, people with substance use problems are often denied medical care or have difficulty obtaining it. In some cases, services are offered only in isolated areas or in asylums, often far from patients’ families and communities. In other cases, patients are assigned to involuntary treatment without due process. Homeless people and other marginalized groups have particular difficulty getting access to services.
The new strategy approved today calls on countries to:
Dr. Galvão said that recent progress in psychiatric reform had put PAHO member countries in a “better position to carry out a strategy focused on prevention and treatment.” He noted that health authorities across the Region had participated in the development of the new strategy.
The PAHO Directing Council meets each year to set priorities for Pan-American cooperation in health and to guide PAHO’s technical cooperation programs in its Member States.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).