Management of substance abuse

WHO’s role, mandate and activities to counter the world drug problem

The world drug problem constitutes a serious threat to public health and the well-being of humanity. WHO has been invited to contribute to the preparations of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session to address the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016). One of the contributions is a comprehensive document that summarizes WHO’s current role and mandate and outlines its current programmes and activities. In the period leading up to UNGASS on the world drug problem in 2016, WHO will release a number of further publications in the area of drugs and health.

WHO recommends expanding access to naloxone to reduce deaths from opioid overdose

4 November 2014 -- New WHO guidelines, released today, aim to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths globally. The guidelines recommend expanding naloxone access to people likely to witness an overdose in their community, such as friends, family members and partners of people who use drugs, and social workers. In most countries, naloxone is currently accessible only through hospitals and ambulance crews. Globally, an estimated 69 000 people die each year from opioid overdose.

3.3 million deaths from harmful use of alcohol in 2012

Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths in 2012 were attributable to harmful use of alcohol, says a new report launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) today. Alcohol consumption can not only lead to dependence but also increases people’s risk of developing more than 200 diseases including liver cirrhosis, some cancers and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. In addition, harmful drinking can lead to violence and injuries.

Second global network meeting on reducing harmful use of alcohol

On 12 – 14 May 2014 more than 140 representatives from around 120 countries worldwide will meet in Geneva to discuss development and implementation of alcohol policies at global, regional and country level. They represent the global network of WHO national counterparts for implementation of the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The network was established in 2011 to ensure effective collaboration with Member States and strengthening national responses to the harmful use of alcohol. The Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 will also be launched at the meeting.


fact buffet

Drug use

230 millionpeople, or 1 in 20 adults, are estimated to have used an illicit drug at least once in 2010.

World Drug Report 2012

Health services

1.7 bedsper 100 000 population are available for the treatment of alcohol and drug use disorders

Beds for the treatment of alcohol and drug use disorders

Pharmacological treatment

30%of countries have effective medication available

Availability of opioid agonist treatment

The Global Information System on Alcohol and Health

The Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH) provides easy and rapid access to a wide range of alcohol-related health indicators. It is an essential tool for assessing and monitoring the health situation and trends related to alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm, and policy responses in countries.

This web site contains information pertaining to psychoactive substance use and abuse, and also information about the World Health Organization's projects and activities in the areas of substance use and substance dependence.

WHO is the only agency dealing with all psychoactive substances, regardless of their legal status. WHO’s mandate in the area of psychoactive substance use includes:

  • Prevention and reduction of the negative health and social consequences of psychoactive substance use;
  • Reduction of the demand for non-medical use of psychoactive substances;
  • Assessment of psychoactive substances so as to advise the United Nations with regard to their regulatory control.

Since its founding in 1948, WHO has played a leading role in supporting countries to prevent and reduce the problems due to psychoactive substance use, and in recommending which psychoactive substances should be regulated. In 2000, the Department of Substance Abuse was merged with the Department of Mental Health to form the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, reflecting the many common approaches of management of mental health and substance use disorders.


WHO Resolutions Related to Substance Use

For more information

WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence

For more information

WHO Expert Committee on Problems Related to Alcohol Consumption

For more information


UN International Drug Control Conventions

For more information

UN Key Declarations

For more information