Management of substance abuse

The Joint UNODC/WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care

Nothing less than what is expected for the treatment and care of any other disease.

The Joint UNODC-WHO Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care is a collaboration between UNODC and WHO to support the development of comprehensive, integrated health-based approaches to drug policies that can reduce demand for illicit substances, relieve suffering and decrease drug-related harm to individuals, families, communities and societies.

Jovan`s story

Drug dependence treatment and care in the Republic of Serbia

“I started injecting heroin in 1994 and continued injecting intensively over the next 16 years. I was on the streets for about five years, with some breaks. I did everything I could to get hold of drugs,” says 36-year old Jovan, who is sitting in front of the Methadone Center “Savski Venac”, in Belgrade, Serbia.

UNODC and WHO both have constitutional mandates to address issues presented by drug use and dependence. Moreover, taking into account the health, socio-economic and security implications of drug use and related disorders, the two agencies are uniquely positioned to lead this initiative. In particular, it will open a dialogue with Member States and involve a varied group of government ministries such as those for health, welfare, as well as the criminal justice system and other relevant sectors.

The initiative sends a strong message to policymakers regarding the need to develop services that address drug use disorders in a pragmatic, science-based and humanitarian way, replacing stigma and discrimination with knowledge, care, recovery opportunities and re-integration.

The Joint UNODC-WHO programme is closely linked to the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which was set up by WHO in November 2008 to identify strategies for scaling up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders. This includes disorders due to illicit drug use as one of eight priority conditions.

The joint UNODC-WHO programme:

  • Leads a global collaborative effort for improving coverage and quality of treatment and care services for drug use disorders in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Promotes the development of comprehensive and integrated treatment systems that are able to deliver a continuum of care for drug users and link services at municipal and national levels.
  • Maps population needs, legislative frameworks and available services and programmes for drug dependence treatment and care.
  • Supports policy and legislation revision to achieve balance in drug policy and to support humane and effective drug prevention, treatment and care.
  • Develops low-cost outreach treatment and care services, and increases access in rural and remote areas.
  • Places prevention, treatment and care of drug use disorders into the mainstream health care system, linking with NGOs and ensuring full coordination with the health care system, as part of an integrated continuum of care.
  • Provides alternative measures to imprisonment for dependent drug users where appropriate and, where this is not possible, provision of drug dependence treatment in prison settings.
  • Supports universities at the national level to promote research and training curricula on drug dependence treatment and care.
  • Provides and supports training programmes for professionals involved in the provision of treatment and care for drug users, including those whose professional primary focus is not in that area.
  • Develops international recommendations, guidelines and standards aiming at the knowledge transfer from research to practice and supports adaptation and implementation at country level.
  • Supports regional networks of quality service providers, working on drug dependence treatment, social support services and HIV/AIDS prevention and care.


International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders

  • International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders
    pdf, 1.45Mb

    The “International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders” were developed by UNODC and WHO through a process of expert consultations within the framework of the UNODC-WHO collaborative program on drug dependence treatment and care. The standards were released as a document for field testing and presented at the 59th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in 2016. Currently the WHO Management of Substance Abuse team, in collaboration with the UNODC Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section is conducting structured field testing of the International standards for the treatment of drug use disorders in diverse health systems and cultural settings.