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DrugScope responds to Global Commission on Drug Policy report

2 June 2011

DrugScope has responded to the release of a new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The document, launched in New York, calls for “a paradigm shift in global drug policy”, with a move from a criminal justice towards a public health approach, and asks that policy makers recognise the ‘complex reality’ of drug use.

The Commission is made up of prominent global figures, including the former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria, former President of Colombia and Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa. They have agreed four core principles which it says ‘should guide national and international drug policies and strategies’ and makes eleven recommendations.

Principles:

1. Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society.

2. Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower levels of cultivation, production and distribution, and treat people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals.

3. The development and implementation of drug policies should be a global shared responsibility, but also needs to take into consideration diverse political, social and cultural realities. Policies should respect the rights and needs of people affected by production, trafficking and consumption, as explicitly acknowledged in the 1988 Convention on Drug Trafficking.

4. Drug policies must be pursued in a comprehensive manner, involving families, schools, public health specialists, development practitioners and civil society leaders, in partnership with law enforcement agencies and other relevant governmental bodies.

The report highlights evidence of the benefits of harm reduction and public health strategies, including low HIV prevalence among injecting drug users. The UK is referenced among countries ‘that have consistently implemented comprehensive harm reduction strategies’ with HIV prevalence of under 5% among people who inject drugs. In comparison, prevalence in the United States, which was ‘late’ to adopt a harm reduction strategies, is 15% while Russia, which has so far resisted large scale implementation, has a prevalence rate of over 35%. The report argues that evidence based treatment and prevention should be a key responsibility for governments across the world.

Among its recommendations the Commission calls for the criminalisation of drug users to be replaced by approaches based on health and treatment. The report states: ‘If national governments or local administrations feel that decriminalisation policies will save money and deliver better health and social outcomes for their communities …then the international community should support and facilitate such policy experiments and learn from their application”.(page 11)

DrugScope has consistently supported an evidence-based and incremental approach to drug law reform and supports calls for the government to consider different ways of using the criminal justice system, including the evidence for the decriminalisation of drugs for possession offences.Law enforcement activity should be concentrated on those are involved in the manufacture and supply of drugs.

Martin Barnes, Chief Executive of DrugScope said, “Today’s report demonstrates the benefit of drug policies that effectively respond to the complexity of drug use and drug harms. Many countries around the world, however, are a long way from achieving this.

“The UK has a significant record of delivering humane, public health responses to drug misuse, which we need to continue to build on, including continued investment in evidence-based treatment and supporting recovery from dependency.

“Important recommendations are also made in the Commission’s report about drug law reform. While any government would be cautious about law reform, there is compelling evidence to question the cost and effectiveness of responding to personal possession through the criminal justice system. Forty years on from the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is right for government to undertake a comprehensive review of the role of the criminal justice system, and the alternatives, for best responding to drug misuse".