Leaked UN report calls for drug law reform
Delegates at last week’s 24th International Harm Reduction Conference (IHRC) in Kuala Lumpur called for a leaked UN briefing paper on drug policy reform to be officially released. The document calls for the decriminalisation of drug use and possession for personal consumption and makes explicit reference to the damage current drug policies have on the HIV response.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) briefing paper was leaked by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, a prominent drug policy reform advocate, after reported pressure from the USA to stop its release.
The paper explains: “The threat of arrest and criminal sanctions have been widely shown to obstruct access to lifesaving health services like sterile needles and syringes … fuelling HIV and hepatitis C epidemics among people who use drugs, and contributing to preventable deaths from those blood borne viruses.”
IHRC carried the tagline ‘Call for Leadership’, and in light of the support for the leaked briefing paper, many delegates have called for greater leadership from the UNODC on drug policy reform.
At a separate event in Geneva, several high-level UN officials met to discuss health and people-focused drug policy reform, ahead of the UNGASS Special Session on the World Drug Problem in April 2016. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said it was crucial for public health to be at the heart of future drug and criminal justice policies: “The criminalisation of people who use drugs is fuelling the HIV epidemic, it is an injustice that people who use drugs are being left behind in the AIDS response.”
There are around 12.7 million people who inject drugs worldwide and around 1.7 million (13%) are thought to be living with HIV. Punitive laws that criminalise drug use and possession act as a serious barrier for access to essential health services.