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Willem Scholten

WHO team leader on access to controlled medicines, 2005 to 2012

I am currently a consultant on medicines and controlled substances, still working with WHO as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

It was a surprise when ketamine was put on the agenda of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs for scheduling [which limits access to the medicine], as a result of pressure from China, because it was against the procedures to do so. Putting it on the agenda was a big concern, because ketamine has a really important role in human pain medicine, human and veterinary surgery and wildlife conservation across the world, and scheduling it would make it much harder for hospitals and doctors to access. In developing countries, with no reliable power supply or insufficient equipment, it is really the only way to give anaesthesia so it would have been disastrous.

We launched a campaign against scheduling of ketamine in advance of the meeting of the  Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2015. TNI was a key part of that group, endorsing a fact sheet on the issue, helping to mobilise civil society worldwide, and getting governments to express their opposition. Martin Jelsma of TNI analysed a lot of legal issues around the scheduling, as the proposals involved violations of the drug treaties themselves.

As a result of our campaign, China eventually withdrew its request to allow further study, but we remain alert to its reintroduction and together with TNI and others have a group ready to respond with increased resources on the issue in the future.

Ketamine is one issue, but I think international drug policy needs to change on many fronts. This will only happen if non-governmental organisations act globally and continuously hammer away at the topic. TNI is one of those organisations.”