New York

24 September 2018

Secretary-General's remarks at High-Level Event on Counter-Narcotics hosted by the United States of America [as delivered]

[Watch the video on]

Mr. President, let me begin by thanking you.
You are focussing a global spotlight on the world drug problem – and we have never needed it more. 
As you have so eloquently said about the drug challenge – and I quote: “Failure is not an option and addiction is not our future.”
That sets out today’s discussion perfectly.
For me – like so many of you – this is more than just a policy issue. 
It is personal.  
Someone very close to me passed away at an unbearably young age.
My sister is a psychiatrist and she spent many years working at a drug treatment centre in Lisbon.
I saw the heavy toll it took on her day after day as she treated those suffering so badly.   I must tell you. I have enormous admiration for my sister. I think I have done several tough jobs in my life. Nothing compares with what I have seen her do.
The reality is that drugs and addiction are not abstract issues.
All of us have stories.
All of us should know that this can knock on our door at any moment. 
It is our duty to act – and act now.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
The situation is alarming.
Global production of opium and manufacture of cocaine, as the President has just said, has never been higher.
In recent years, some 31 million people around the world required treatment because of their drug use.
Some 450,000 people die every year from overdoses or drug-related health issues.
Non-medical use of tramadol in parts of Africa and the Middle East is threatening communities that are already fragile.
Here in the United States, the opioid crisis is utterly heart-breaking – destroying lives and impacting communities.
Despite the urgency of the problem, for every six people around the world who need treatment for drug use, just one receives it.
And that figure is even lower for women drug users.
To tackle this complex issue, we need strong action in two areas.
First, by cracking down on drug trafficking and those who profit from human misery. 
That means denying safe haven to drug traffickers – and better cross-border cooperation to pursue kingpins and dismantle networks.
It means improved intelligence-sharing and analysis across the entire drug supply chain.
And it means targeting the links between drugs, corruption, arms, human trafficking and terrorist networks. 
The second action area is making sure that those who need treatment get it.  Consumers are first and foremost patients and victims. 
These two principles guided the drug policy launched by my government when I was Prime Minister of Portugal two decades ago.
In the 1990s, my country was reeling. 
We had some of Europe’s highest death rates for drug abuse and the highest rate of HIV amongst injecting drug users.
First, we took on the drug traffickers. I made sure law enforcement officers got the information and equipment they needed. For example, they told me their boats could not keep up with the drug smugglers. So, we immediately invested in a new generation of armed speedboats. As you can imagine, in Portugal, in the extreme west of Europe, drugs come essentially by sea. I was so excited about this project that I myself, as Prime Minister, participated in test runs of those speedboats at sea.
At the same time, the government assumed its responsibilities for prevention and treatment – rooted in the conviction that drug addicts are victims who need treatment rather than punishment.
And the policy worked.   
There was an increase in the quantity of drugs seized and in the efficiency of police and customs operations.
Drug consumption went down significantly, particularly among young people.
The number of problematic drug users went down by 50 percent.
There was a significant reduction in the infectious diseases associated with drug use and in the number of people taking overdoses.
Today, Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest death rates from drug use.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
National priorities may differ, but the global community shares a common goal: to protect people’s security, health and wellbeing.
The United Nations system – and I personally – stand ready to support governments in meeting the challenge of the world drug problem.
The United Nations stands behind implementation of the UN Drug Control Conventions and the outcome document of the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2016.
Mr. President, once again thank you for your leadership in bringing this life-and-death issue front-and-centre.
Failure is, indeed, not an option.  Together we will succeed. We will never give up.
Thank you.