Essential medicines and health products

WHO recommendations endorsed by 61st UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna

On 14 March, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) unanimously endorsed WHO recommendations to place 12 New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) under international control. NPS are synthetic substances that produce similar effects to illegal drugs (like cocaine or ecstasy).

WHO recommended that six fentanyl derivatives be placed under strict Schedule 1 control according to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Fentanyl derivatives have recently come to international attention due to their association with overdose deaths. One fentanyl derivative, carfentanil, poses an exceptional danger to public health due to its high potency. For that reason, WHO recommended the most severe form of international control for carfentanil, in Schedules 1 and 4 of the 1961 Convention.

WHO carries out this work with the support of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, a group of independent scientific experts convened by the agency. The Committee reviews evidence on psychoactive substances for their potential for abuse, dependence and harm, as well as for possible therapeutic use; it then makes recommendations to the UN CND.

Five synthetic cannabinoids and one amphetamine-derivative substance were also recommended for placement under Schedule II of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

The CND comprises 53 countries that vote on whether to endorse the scientific recommendations of WHO. CND endorsement of the WHO recommendations will come into effect in countries later this year and in practice will restrict the international availability of these substances, thereby providing countries with a legal tool to protect public health.

The next WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence meeting will take place on 4-8 June 2018 in Geneva, and will be fully dedicated to the scientific review of cannabis and cannabis related substances.