Three Short Texts From the International Narcotics Control Board

As part of the ongoing efforts of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to raise awareness of key issues relevant to international drug control, I have the pleasure to share with you three short texts:

* Application of principle of proportionality for drug-related offences

* Ensuring availability of narcotic drugs for medical purposes

* Carrying by international travellers of small quantities of preparations containing controlled substances

Application of principle of proportionality for drug-related offences

  1. The application of the principle of proportionality in the context of drug offences is a key aspect of a sound and effective drug policy. Some States have made extensive use of incarceration of low-level drug offenders, despite the fact that this approach is not mandated by the international drug control treaties, and some have even applied extrajudicial responses to drug-related offences, notwithstanding the fact that such actions are contrary to the treaties. It is essential to distinguish between the criminal justice provisions contained within the Conventions1,2,3, and the criminal justice policy measures which have been taken by some Governments.
  2. Implementation of the international treaties is subject to the internationally recognized principle of proportionality, which requires that a State’s treatment of illegal behaviour to be proportionate and that a punishment in response to criminal offences should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.
  3. The INCB has repeatedly called upon States to give due regard to the principle of proportionality in the elaboration and implementation of criminal justice policy in their efforts to address drug-related crime.
  4. While the choice of legislative or policy measures to address drug-related crime, including the determination of sanctions is the prerogative of States, the international drug control treaties require that these sanctions should be adequate and proportionate, taking into account the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the alleged offender.
  5. The international drug control treaties do not automatically require the imposition of conviction and punishment for drug-related offences, including those involving the possession, purchase or cultivation of illicit drugs, in appropriate cases of minor nature or when committed by drug users. While “serious offences shall be liable to adequate punishment, particularly by imprisonment or other penalties of deprivation of liberty”, offences of a minor or lesser gravity need not necessarily be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, such as incarceration. The Conventions afford discretion for Parties to provide, either as an alternative to conviction and punishment or in addition to conviction and punishment, that drug users undergo measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration.


Ensuring availability of narcotic drugs for medical purposes

  1. Some decades ago the international community made a solemn commitment with the SingleConvention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971: to ensure the availability, to make adequate provision and not to unduly restrict the availability of drugs that were considered indispensable for medical and scientific purposes. Over the past decades that promise has not been fully met. . Too many people suffer or die in pain or do not have access to the medications they need. Unnecessary suffering because of the lack of appropriate medication due to the inaction, lack of know-how or unnecessary administrative requirements is a scandal that shames us all.
  2. Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine, leaving 75 per cent of the world population without access to proper pain relief treatment. Around 92 per cent of morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Inadequate access violates the notion of article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the Right to medical care, which also encompasses palliative care.
    1. This situation is caused by a variety of factors, including health care professionals, that meansThe imbalance in the availability of opioid analgesics is particularly worrying as the latest data show that many of the conditions requiring pain management, particularly cancer, are prevalent and increasing in low- and middle-income countries.doctors and nurses, not receiving adequate education and training as part of their professional education, lack of know-how and capacity of government authorities, concerns about overprescribing and addiction and overly onerous regulatory and administrative requirements. Many patients in most of the countries in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, and South Asia are affected, but patients in other parts of the world are also affected.
    2. Concrete steps and rapid action by Member States, the international community and the pharmaceutical industry can go a long way to remedy the situation. The most important and urgent actions would involve providing specialised training for health care professionals enabling them to prescribe and administer pain medication as well as training for the competent national authorities.
    3. Governments must bring about partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry, which has a duty to act in a socially responsible manner, to ensure access to and availability of affordable medications, placing emphasis on generics.
    4. Governments need also ensure that the training curricula of doctors and nurses contain, ab initio, content on the prescribing and rational use of medicines containing controlled substances.
    5. At the same time, where necessary, legislation and regulations should be revised, prescribing practices brought up to day and the capacity of national agencies involved strengthened.
    6. If Governments, together with the relevant international agencies, were to put together a sufficiently well-resourced plan of action, Member States would be on their way to significantly contributing towards achieving a major element of Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Ensuring healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.


Carrying by international travellers of small quantities of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for personal medical use

  1. The Board’s continuing endeavour to assist travellers carrying small quantities of controlled substances for personal medical use across international borders gained, both, high visibility and prominent usefulness.
  2. An ever increasing inflow of queries from individual travellers and organizations on the aforementioned subject has been observed. The secretariat regularly receives requests for assistance and/or clarification of the applicable national rules and regulations. The requests come from organizations and individual travellers residing in various countries. In 2016, requests came from Australia, France, Italy, United Kingdom, and the United States; their countries of interest included Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Guinea Bissau, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey and the USA.
  3. Several requests relate to common rules and regulations of the European Union and the Schengen area. The substances referenced in the queries included psychotropic substances listed in Schedules II, III and IV such as amfetamine, alprazolam, buprenorphine, dextroamphetamine, diazepam, methylphenidate, nitrazepam, tramadol, zolpidem and others that are not under international control.
  4. Since 2013, the information furnished by Governments on national requirements for travellers under medical treatment carrying preparations containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances under international control has been summarized in a standardized table format and made available in six official UN languages on INCB website.
  5. To date, such information is available for 109 Governments (up from 79 in May 2014)and is uploaded to the Board’s webpage, more than half are already available in the form of standardized tables translated into six official UN languages:
  6. In September 2016, given the increasing interest in this pertinent information, inparticular the international guidelines for national regulations concerning travellers under treatment with internationally controlled drugs, and the compilation of standardized summary tables of regulations by country, the secretariat sent out a reminder letter to all countries and territories, requesting all Governments to visit the above website and to inform the Board if the information pertaining to their countries accurately reflects current provisions of their national laws and regulations.
    1. The Governments that have not yet furnished any information were requested to

    provide the requisite description of all relevant legal/regulatory or administrative measures

    adopted to allow travellers entering/leaving the country to carry medical preparations

    containing controlled substances for personal medical use. In addition to full texts of relevant

    pieces of information, these Governments were also requested to fill in and to submit to the

    Board the standardized summary tables that were attached to the circular letter.

    1. The secretariat will continue to augment the list of national rules and regulations

    pertaining to travellers carrying internationally controlled substances for personal medical use,

    provide requisite assistance and attend to all inquiries in this regard.


    INCB is the independent, quasi-judicial body charged with promoting and monitoring Government compliance with the three international drug control conventions: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.






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