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HHS Secretary Burwell: World Health Assembly Ministerial Panel on the World Drug Problem
May 24, 2016

HHS Secretary Sylvia M. BurwellHHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell
World Health Assembly Ministerial Panel on the World Drug Problem

Geneva, Switzerland
May 24, 2016

“We believe that health authorities are a critical part of our response to the world drug problem. And key to their efforts is an empowered and unified WHO.”


Opening Remarks

Thank you, everyone, for joining us for an early morning session. I’m Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

I’m so honored to be here today with such an esteemed group of speakers, and I’ll introduce each of them when I turn to them to speak.

But first, I want to start our session this morning by thanking WHO for creating a space to discuss these important issues.

Just last month, the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in New York marked a turning point in our global work to address drug use and abuse.

At that meeting, our global community committed to a balanced approach to address drug issues. We committed to bring together evidenced-based public health strategies with smart law enforcement programs.

Here in the United States, thanks to President Obama’s leadership, we have emphasized a public health approach in the fight against drug use and abuse.

We must advocate for evidence-based treatment that leads to long-term recovery. And the people who live with addiction need access to comprehensive and inclusive treatment and recovery services.

The public health sector has a role to play at each stage.

We need to prevent future drug use by advocating for evidence-based prevention policies.

We need to reduce the harmful social and health effects that come with addiction.

And we need to make sure people can get treatment and recovery services without stigma, and regardless of their situation – even if they’re incarcerated.

We need to help people regain their lives.

In the United States, one of our greatest public health threats is an epidemic of prescription opioid and heroin abuse and overdose.

Shortly, my friend and colleague David Grubb will share his story on how this epidemic has affected his life, and his family’s.

His family’s struggle isn’t an isolated story.

Across our nation, drug overdose deaths, a majority of which are related to opioids, have taken more lives than car crashes.

Since 1999, deaths in the United States from opioid overdoses have quadrupled.

And in 2014, more than 240 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed – enough for every adult American to have a bottle.

To respond to this epidemic, we’re using public health tools in three key areas.

First, we’re giving doctors and clinicians the tools they need to make informed prescribing decisions and help reduce opioid overprescribing.

Second, we’re expanding access to medication-assisted treatments that combine medications like methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine with counseling services.

And finally, we’re increasing access to naloxone, a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

We’re here today for an important dialog. We’re here to share the best ideas and come together in our common mission to fight the global drug problem.

And we’re fortunate that we have such qualified leaders to share their insights on our panel today.

Closing Remarks

The UNGASS has challenged all of our countries on a broad spectrum of health and welfare issues.

It has called on us to enhance the public health approach to this issue in each of our nations.

It has encouraged us to work with colleagues in law enforcement and criminal justice.

And it has inspired us to strengthen our cooperation across sectors in our own countries, and throughout the entire UN system.

Internationally, the UNGASS has reinforced the leadership efforts of the Vienna-based UN drug effort.

It has illustrated the importance of meaningful coordination among WHO and other UN entities, particularly the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

It has highlighted the critical treaty role of WHO with its expertise in reviewing drugs for control, including new psychoactive substances that have no medical or scientific use.

And it has highlighted the role of WHO in supporting the availability of drugs and the development of treatment and prevention programs.

The International Treatment Standards, developed by WHO and the UNODC also illustrate the kind of collaborative effort we want to build on in the future.

We believe that health authorities are a critical part of our response to the world drug problem. And key to their efforts is an empowered and unified WHO.

Before we close, I want to thank the esteemed panelists who joined us this morning.

Though we come from different backgrounds and different communities, we share many challenges, and we share the will to resolve them.

Thank you.