Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, speech at the 67th Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna, Austria – 14 March 2024

Read Assistant Minister McBride's speech to the 67th Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event titled 'On the road to 2029: How to accelerate our efforts to ensure safe access to essential controlled medicines for all patients in need while ensuring rational use and preventing diversion’.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister (De Sutter), and thank you to all the speakers who we have had the privilege of hearing from today.

My name is Emma McBride, and I am Australia’s Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health.

The breadth of information covered, and diverse experiences shared this afternoon have highlighted the complexities in ensuring and promoting access to and availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, particularly for the relief of pain.

The 2023 World Drug Report once again highlighted the stark inequalities in access to and availability of controlled medicines for pain relief on a global scale.

Despite being embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under target 3.8 on achieving universal health coverage:

  • 86% of the world’s population lives without adequate access to pharmaceutical opioids for pain relief and care, and 
  • there is a 40-fold difference in the availability of opioids per capita for pain management and palliative care between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries.  

I also make the point that even in high-income countries, inequity can lead to reduced access, including in palliative care, where patients may go without adequate access to vital pain relief medication.

World Health Organization reports have determined that health inequality reflects gender inequality more broadly – it disproportionately affects women and girls. 

If affects women and girls, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, as they have reduced access to controlled medicines in comparison to their male counterparts.

Furthermore, other populations that are disproportionally affected by lower literacy rates, have inadequate access to health information and health services, and who more frequently experience stigma and discrimination, also experience reduced access to the pain relief medication in times of need.

These inequalities are unacceptable, particularly given the universal recognition of the necessity of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for the relief of pain being a key factor in protecting the dignity of all people.

In addition, its importance in the right of individuals to access the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health through the timely provision of affordable, safe and effective controlled medicines, as well as prevention, treatment and care more broadly.

This issue can be considered and addressed in some part at all levels – local, domestic, regional, and international.

Issues of access and availability have a place on all policy agendas, and can and should take various forms, if we are to honour and act on the commitments we make to not leaving anyone behind, and particularly assisting those most in need.

Recognising the urgent need for action in the global south, including South-East Asia and the Pacific, Australia has been proud to support the UNODC, World Health Organization and Union for International Cancer Control’s Joint Global Programme in recent years, currently being implemented in Timor Leste, Fiji and Indonesia following a successful pilot in Ghana.

The program works to deliver effective evidence-based interventions that address country-specific challenges, barriers and gaps.

Whether through legal or regulatory processes, building knowledge and capacity of local healthcare workers, or conducting educational or awareness-raising activities to better understand, adapt to or change social and cultural norms, what’s important is that they are place-based and locally driven.

Australia encourages the global community to consider public health and human rights-based approaches as we strive for innovative responses in identifying, addressing and overcoming barriers and inequalities regarding access to controlled medicines.

We look forward to working in collaboration with other member states, international organisations, civil society, academia, the scientific community and affected communities in doing so.

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge and extend my thanks to Belgium for their longstanding commitment to addressing the complex factors that influence the access to and availability of controlled medicines for those in need.

Australia has welcomed the opportunity to partner with Belgium on a number of initiatives and activities, and looks forward to engaging constructively as their leadership extends to an important resolution at CND67 on ‘Improving the access to and availability of controlled substances for medical purposes, including for the treatment of children in pain, through the promotion of awareness raising, training, and data collection’. 

This comes at an opportune time as we commit to turning our attention to how our efforts to address this persistent challenge can not only continue, but be enhanced, in the next five years and beyond.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to today’s event, and we look forward to working together so the global community can have more equitable access to controlled medicines, and greater equity in opportunity to attain their highest level of health and wellbeing.

Thank you.


Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.