Reviewing legal aspects of substitution treatment at international level

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
ELDD Comparative Study
August 2000

publicationTreatment for drug addiction was seen as a measure to reduce drug abuse as early as 1961 when the UN Single Convention was signed. However, the only recognised concept of drug treatment mentioned by the Convention concerned the detoxification of the individual through ‘drug-free treatment’. Therapeutic measures aimed at treating drug addictions through maintenance and related distributions of alternative substances are not expressly mentioned by the UN Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988.

application-pdfDownload the document (PDF)

However, therapeutic measures, mainly based on the distribution of methadone or similar antagonists to heavy heroin addicts, tentatively started in some European countries already in the late sixties and in the seventies, and developed and expanded during the eighties and in the nineties.
Therefore, reviewing at international level the legitimacy of substitution treatment interventions and programmes comes up against one key obstacle; that the United Nations Conventions - ruling on the production and use of illicit drugs - do not expressly regulate the distribution of narcotics for reducing drug abuse or related harms.