UN calls for greater focus on women in drug policies and treatment

March 2017

The Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations, has called on governments worldwide to implement gender sensitive drug programs and facilitate greater access to treatment to coordinate and reduce the growing problems of drug abuse among women. 

Professor Richard Mattick, a principal research fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research centre (NDARC) and WHO nominated board member of INCB said that the lead of the INCB in promoting women’s health and access to treatment internationally is highly relevant to Australia and the Pacific region, where increasing problems of drug use among women are occurring.

The report found that overdose among females, including in high income countries has been increasing at a higher rate than men

Compared to men, women are more likely to be prescribed narcotics and anti-anxiety medications and are consequently more likely to abuse such drugs, the report notes. Germany and Serbia have reported that fatal overdoses from prescription drugs are more frequent among women. Additionally, countries such as the UK and Northern Ireland have seen larger increases in overdoses among all substances among women than men.

“Although accidental overdose in Australia is higher among men than women there are signs that particularly with prescription drugs more women are seeking treatment and more are experiencing fatal and nonfatal overdose,” says Professor Mattick.

NDARC Professor Kate Dolan, a specialist in women and drugs, said that the evidence is clear that worldwide women not accessing treatment in sufficient numbers. She said “An increase in the availability of women-specific services is essential,” said Professor Dolan. “There is a cultural stigma attached to women who use drugs which makes it difficult for them to acknowledge they need treatment. As well some countries make it hard to access treatment. UN Sustainable Development Goals call for efforts from all governments.” 

The Report highlights the major developments in the use of amphetamines in Australia and the trafficking through the Pacific countries to Australia, including Fiji as a transit country. 

The INCB Annual Report 2016 is available online at https://www.incb.org/incb/en/publications/annual-reports/annual-report.html