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SIP 2017 - Key Statement

Willem Scholten – Medicines and Controlled Substances, Netherlands

"Choice of language can impede access to medicines both for the reatment of pain and opioid dependence. Referring to a person as a “substance abuser” rather than “a person with substance use disorder” evokes stigma and there is evidence that it reduces patients’ access to appropriate treatment. Moreover, imprecise terminology may result in misunderstanding of the nature of pain treatment and the management of substance use disorder. In turn, politicians and administrators may establish irrational public health policies, and patients may decide not to take their medicines"



Willem Scholten
Consultant – Medicines and Controlled Substances

Currently he is working on a campaign by six medical associations including EFIC to stimulate the medical press to ban imprecise, stigmatising, non-respectful and judgemental terminology because there is evidence that such languages impairs patient access to controlled medicines.

Studied Pharmacy and Public Administration

  • 10 years in retail pharmacy (pharmacy management; patient information; quality assurance; cost containment) (1981 - 1991)
  • 21 years in public administration (Ministry of Health: cost containment, legislation, production and distribution of controlled medicines; WHO: substance evaluation access to controlled medicines) (1991 - 2012)
  • Currently Consultant - Medicines and Controlled Substances

Specialties: Pharmaceutical regulatory affairs and drug control policies. Special interest in realizing access to adequate pain management for those 5 bn. people who have not.

Willem Scholten is an independent consultant on regulation of and policies related to psychoactive substances. Examples of his work include conducting workshops on availability of pain management, providing information on controlled substance policies, the review of cannabis and the application of the International Nonpropietary Name. This has included work for the World Health Organization, non-governmental organizations and the pharmaceutical industry. He serves also as an expert of various expert groups. He is a Board Member for International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies. In the past he worked in retail pharmacy, in the Dutch Ministry of Health and as the Team Leader for Access to Controlled Medicines in the World Health Organization.

Recently he published on the increasing number of lethal opioid intoxications in the United States and he found that the picture often is distorted. Usually pain patients are accused to be the driving force of this epidemic, but he was able to show that this is not really true. Furthermore, he demonstrated that the Centers for Disease Control and a lobbyist groups use forged consumption figures, exaggerating the situation. Soon he will also demonstrate that CDC’s guidelines on chronic pain treatment were developed with anti-opioid lobbyists who failed to declare their background.

Currently he is working on a campaign by six medical associations including EFIC to stimulate the medical press to ban imprecise, stigmatising, non-respectful and judgemental terminology because there is evidence that such languages impairs patient access to controlled medicines. During SIP 2017, he will elaborate on this issue, explain which words not to use and what instead and how one can make a switch to sound language easily.