Global ‘War on Drugs’ has failed and exacerbated the HIV epidemic, say global experts

23 November 2016

Drug policy based on prohibition hasn't worked. It's time to build on the success of partial-decriminalisation models with an emphasis on health and human rights, says new report.

Drug abuse with people sharing same needle and syringes

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the complete ending of all penalties – civil and criminal – on people who use drugs.

Comprised of 25 political leaders and leading thinkers from around the globe – including former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico – the Global Commission is a leading voice in humane and science-based drug policy with the aim of reducing harm from drugs for both people and society.

In their annual report, Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A New Approach to Drug Decriminalization, the Global Commission outlines the destructive and harmful consequences of punitive drug policy, which have exacerbated HIV and hepatitis C epidemics in many places around the globe.

According to UNAIDS, new HIV infections have risen by over a third (36%) among people who inject drugs between 2010 and 2015 alone. The vast majority of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa regions in 2014 were among people who inject drugs and their sexual networks.

Punitive drug policy limits access to vital harm reduction services such as needle and syringe exchange programmes, opioid substitution therapy, voluntary testing and counselling services for HIV, hepatitis and STIs, as well as antiretroviral treatment programmes.

Besides severely limiting their access to healthcare, people who use drugs routinely experience violations of their human rights because of punitive drug policy – such as recently reported in the Philippines

 “People who use drugs have paid a huge toll to the current drug control system; they faced alone and without any legal protection the ravages of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, as well as many non-communicable diseases,” said Professor Michel Kazatchkine, former Executive Director of the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “Now we have the scientific and medical tools to provide all the services they need, but we mostly lack the political leadership to implement an enabling legal environment. This starts by the complete decriminalization of drugs.”

Editors from the British Medical Journal also this week called for a change in drug policy – stating that health should be at the centre of the debate. Harm Reduction International also released their biannual Global State of Harm Reduction Report that highlights the lack of progress made in reaching people who use drugs with vital health services.

Photo credit:
istock/ diego_cervo

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Content Specialist - HIV & Sexual Health