PAHO Project To Improve Caribbean Substance Use Disorder Policies

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has launched a new project to improve substance use disorder policies in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

PAHO said the project will provide technical support to Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, and Panama “to improve national capacity to develop and implement health and social responses for substance-use related problems.”

PAHO referred to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2021 World Drug Report, which states that 83 million persons in the Americas, including the Caribbean, used controlled drugs in 2018, mainly cannabis, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines, and other stimulants.

“Eighty-seven million are projected to use them in 2030. This could increase the burden associated with substance use disorders on health systems in the region, which is disproportionately concentrated in lower- and middle-income countries.”

The project, titled “Universal Health Care for Substance Use Disorders in Latin America and the Caribbean”, will run for 18 months, and focuses on training health and social workers.

“The idea is to build country capacity to formulate, implement, and evaluate policies and programs to address substance use problems using a public health approach,” said PAHO Substance Use Advisor, Dr. Luis Alfonzo.

PAHO said training activities will centre around improving health and social workers’ abilities to screen for substance use disorders, implement early interventions, better manage at-risk populations, and formulate health policies.

It will also work to improve the collaboration between national health and drug control agencies, PAHO said, noting that as training will be conducted virtually, other countries of the region will also indirectly benefit from it.

PAHO said persons who suffer from substance use disorders often face stigma, social isolation, and premature death.

However, it said UNODC estimates that, globally, only one in every eight people who require treatment for a substance use disorder is able to receive it.

PAHO said the pandemic exacerbates the pressure on persons with substance use disorders, who, in turn, also face a higher risk of poor outcomes related to COVD-19.

“There is a relationship between substance use disorders and the likelihood of developing complications from COVID-19, as a result of the conditions of vulnerability in which many such people live,” said Dr. Renato Oliveira e Souza, Unit Chief for Mental Health and Substance Use.

Funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, PAHO said the project is aligned with its Strategy and Plan of Action on Substance Use and Public Health, which promotes “demand reduction initiatives that cover prevention, early intervention, treatment, care, recovery, rehabilitation, and social reintegration measures, as well as initiatives and measures aimed at minimizing the adverse consequences of drug abuse in the social and public health fields.”

PAHO said the project also supports its work to strengthen public health approaches to address substance use problems and will foster greater collaboration between PAHO and other relevant partners, such as the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States, UNODC, the Colombo Plan, and the Ibero-American Network of Non-Governmental Organizations Working on Drug Dependence (RIOD).

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