Methadone and buprenorphine added to WHO list of essential medicines
Gregg Gonsalves, GMHC
In November 2003, a small group of people living with AIDS, drug users, women and gay men met with the Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Jong Wook-Lee and the new head of the HIV/AIDS Department, Dr. Jim Kim. This was the first meeting in the history of the epidemic between a Director General and a delegation of PLWHAs from around the world.
One of the priorities for the activists at that meeting was the inclusion of methadone on the WHOs Model List of Essential Medicines, since this drug is life saving for those struggling with addiction and is a key adjunctive therapy with antiretroviral treatment for drug users.
The push for methadone came from the activists from Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States and from Southeast Asia.
On 30 June 2005, in what is a victory for drug users, people with AIDS, and all who care about them, the WHO put methadone (and buprenorphine as a medicine with a similar clinical performance within a pharmacological class) on the WHO Model (Complementary) List of Essential Medicines.
Complementary list is used for medicines when specialised diagnostic or monitoring facilities and/or specialist medical care and/or specialist training are needed.
Another significant achievement is introduction of a new section in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, namely – Medicines used for substance dependence (programmes). This is an opening for other medicines used for treatment of substance dependence, including alcohol.
Source: Letter from Vladimir Poznyak, M.D., Ph.D. Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD), WHO, Geneva.