World Mental Health day 2023: INCB reiterates its call on Governments to ensure access to internationally controlled substances used in the treatment of mental health disorders

Vienna, 10 October 2023 - On World Mental Health Day 2023, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is reiterating its call on Governments to ensure the availability of internationally controlled psychotropic substances used in the treatment of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.

Psychotropic substances such as buprenorphine, diazepam, lorazepam, midazolam and phenobarbital are considered essential medicines and are used in the treatment of mental health conditions, yet millions of people continue to suffer due to a lack of access to these substances. This is especially the case in low- and middle-income countries, where mental health services are scarce and often difficult to access, and the availability of prescribed medicines for the treatment of their conditions are mostly inadequate. At the same time, there is growing concern about the overprescription of and self-medication with psychotropic medicines in many countries. The unsupervised long-term use of these substances, particularly among vulnerable populations or in combination with other substances, can possibly lead to dependence and harm health. INCB encourages Governments to establish prescription guidelines and monitoring systems to ensure the rational use of psychotropic substances while minimizing potential risks and adverse effects.

In the wake of the COVID-19 public health emergency, levels of anxiety and depression have increased, and humanitarian emergencies, increasing costs of living and economic hardship may worsen the situation.

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2023 is "Mental health is a universal human right". Improving access to and rational use of internationally controlled substances used in the treatment of mental health disorders is a key element to ensuring the right to mental health. INCB is committed to supporting Member States to improve the availability of internationally controlled substances for medical purposes through improved implementation of the drug control conventions and by building the capacity of national authorities to assess their countries' medical requirements for psychotropic substances more accurately.

INCB reminds States Parties to the drug control conventions of their commitment to take all practical measures to prevent drug misuse and provide for treatment, recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration. While this is an essential element towards ensuring the right to health, in particular the right to mental health, these services must be evidence-based and respect the human rights of people who use drugs.

Improving mental health care for all is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. Governments are reminded to ensure that people living with mental health challenges are provided with access to adequate treatment and/or medications required to alleviate their suffering and thus enable them to participate fully in society with no stigma or discrimination.

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