The war on drugs has failed: Global Commission on Drug Policy launches new report

12 September 2014
An HIV ribbon

The Global Commission on Drug Policy met this week in New York for the launch their new report, Taking Control: pathways to drug policies that work. The report calls on world leaders and policymakers to re-think and reform global drug policy, moving away from the ‘war on drugs’ stance, which they argue has failed, to a stance focused on human rights and access to healthcare.

The ‘war on drugs’ stance is based on punitive drug policy, and focuses on reducing the supply of drugs and the criminalisation of drug use. This restricts access to health services for drug users, such as harm reduction, and has no doubt fuelled HIV epidemics across a number of countries – notably Russia. Globally, an estimated 15.9 million people inject drugs, of which, three million are living with HIV. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, around one-third of new HIV infections are the result of drug use. Laws that prohibit the provision of sterile injecting equipment and opiate substitution therapy, or the criminalisation of people who use drugs, drives drug user populations underground and away from the vital health services that will save their lives.

The report makes seven recommendations focusing on human rights and a public health approach. These include re-prioritising drug policy so that health and community safety are primary, moving away from penal reform, to investing in social and health interventions. They also argue that the criminalisation of drug users, and compulsory treatment programmes for offenders should be eliminated. They also support the implementation of experimental and innovative drug policy reform.

Former President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso stated, “Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation… Let’s start by treating drug addiction as a health issue – rather than as a crime – and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let’s also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking.”

The Global Commission on Drug Policy is made up of 22 prominent political figures from around the world. Among the commissioners include, Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso; entrepreneur, Richard Branson; and Michel Kazatchkine, former Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The role of the Commission is to inform on the most effective, science-based ways to reduce harm caused by drugs to both people and societies.

Drug policy is both complex and controversial. With many countries vehemently opposed to liberal drug policy, it is hoped that these recommendations will be taken forward to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, which will take place in 2016, and form the UN’s main drug policy document going forward.

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