Building on my previous post regarding drugs I wrote a letter to the newspaper which was published this week. This post by Thomas Kleppestø shares some similar points and some new ones and may also be of interest to readers. The following is the letter I wrote which was published in the Southern Suburbs Tatler on 5 July 2012.
I was disappointed reading last week’s letter regarding the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking which contained very little on prevention and even less on treatment and public health issues. In contrast there was a lot concerning policing efforts to stem drug use which, whether we want to accept it or not, simply do not work (“Tackling drug scourge,” Tatler, June 28).
This year the Global Commission on Drugs Policy released a second report and recommendations for improving the drug situation. These reports were commissioned by a number of notable figures including, among others, Virgin founder Richard Branson, former UN secretary general Kofi Anan and the former presidents of Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Chile and Switzerland. In neither of the reports was increased policing considered a wise policy decision.
Despite harsher laws and a growing budget the “war on drugs” has been an utter failure with more drugs being produced now and available cheaper and at higher purities, than ever before. All the “war on drugs” has succeeded in doing is ruining people’s lives, wasting money and actually worsening the situation.
The two reports present a number of findings from studies across the world that point to current policy failures and how harm-reduction strategies are more effective than criminalisation. Decriminalisation of drug use and possession has been shown not to result in an increase in drug use and may in fact result in lower usage of drugs. Decriminalisation removes the fear allowing people to openly seek help without repercussions and stops the incarceration of otherwise innocent people who would almost certainly be forced into gangs and a life of crime in jail.
Harsh anti-drug laws have also been shown to contribute to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in many parts of the world both by interrupting HIV/AIDS treatment and contributing to transmission through shared needles. In countries where sterile needles have been provided to addicts there has been a decrease in HIV prevalence among drug users. Such harm reduction strategies produce better outcomes, such as lower HIV infection rates, than laws that lead to arrests but no change in overall public health.
The classification and punishment of drugs is not a reflection of the harms that they can cause. Alcohol, for example, has been shown to be the most harmful drug to society yet is legal while ecstasy is treated as a highly dangerous drug when an independent study has ranked it as less harmful than either Ritalin or anabolic steroids. This disconnect with reality that exists in drug policy can not be allowed to continue.
We need to move towards evidence-based policies that can have a positive effect. That means treating drug use as a medical, not criminal, problem, addressing the social ills that promote drug use and letting scientific evidence inform our actions rather than our feelings. Visit: www.globalcommissionondrugs.org to view the reports.