The worldwide war on drugs has been a “remarkable failure,” only serving to drive the spread of HIV among drug users and their sexual partners, suggests a new report.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a Brazil-based group that includes six former world leaders, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour and British business magnate Richard Branson, released its report Tuesday.
The paper says that focusing the drug war on criminalization and punishment is neither slowing the drug trade, nor protecting people's health.
Instead, it’s helping to fuel the supply of some of the most dangerous drugs, forcing drug use into dangerous pockets underground, and taking away precious funding that could be better spent on addiction prevention and treatment.
According to the report, injection drug use now accounts for about one-third of new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa. Tough drug law enforcement policies around the world are driving that spread in a number of ways, including:
Forcing drug users underground to avoid arrest, away from HIV testing and HIV prevention services
Spreading the HIV pandemic in prisons, where drug use in often rampant,by needlessly incarcerating non-violent drug offenders
Encouraging syringe sharing by restricting groups from offering sterile syringes to drug users
Wasting funding on ineffective drug law enforcement efforts instead of investing it in proven HIV prevention strategies.
Not only is the war on drugs not helping addicts, it’s not reducing the drug supply. The Commission’s report notes that the worldwide supply of illicit opiates, such as heroin, has increased by more than 380 per cent since 1980.
At the same time, there’s been a 79 per cent decrease in the price of heroin in Europe between 1990 and 2009, along with a steady increase in the purity of the drug.
The reoprt says that he global prohibition of drugs fuels drug violence around the world.
“For instance, it is estimated that more than 50,000 individuals have been killed since a 2006 military escalation against drug cartels by Mexican government forces,” the report says.
Those deaths have not disrupted the Mexican drug market’s ability to produce and distribute illegal drugs, the report suggests; instead, Mexican heroin production has increased by more than 340 per cent since 2004.
In order to stop the cycle, the report calls on the United Nations Secretary General, UNAIDS, as and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to acknowledge that the war on drugs is helping spread of HIV and hepatitis, encouraging drug gang violence and leading to other social harms.
It also wants the United Nations groups to push national governments to stop arresting and imprisoning people who use drugs but do no harm to others. Instead, government should focus on evidence-based drug-reduction interventions, such as safe injection sites and prescription heroin programs.
The report, released in advance of next month's international AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., comes as Canada's Conservative government comes under fire for passing tough-on-drugs legislation.
While Canada does have a supervised injection site for chronic drug users – the Insite centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside -- the Conservatives have said they are philosophically opposed to site and have tried repeatedly to have it shut down.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the exemption the site needed to operate could not be denied if there was a demonstrated need for the facility.