David Borden, Executive
Director, [email protected]
Two weeks ago, DRCNet reported
on the "Souder Circus," an anti-harm reduction hearing -- with some esteemed
harm reduction representation -- convened by the Drug Policy Subcommittee,
of the US House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform -- a
grouping chaired by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). I
attended that hearing, and it quickly became clear what Souder's agenda
was. Souder was getting ready to go after harm reduction -- strategies
like needle exchange to the reduce disease and death associated with drug
use -- on an international scale. He imported several representatives
of Asian anti-drug organizations to make the point -- but no Asian AIDS
groups, and none at all from Europe where harm reduction is most advanced.
The issue is now in full press, with US diplomats exerting growing pressure
on agencies like the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Office
on Drugs and Crime.
Two months ago, an anonymous
writer in Pittsburgh's Tribune Review paper borrowed the Neil Young song
title, "The Needle and the Damage Done," for an editorial. Well,
you never know if it was the author or staff at the paper who supply an
editorial's title. But that's what the title was. Unfortunately,
the piece was less a lament over addiction than a poorly conceived attack
piece against harm reduction. The ignorance such screeds embody might
be pardonable if they did not reflect great and willful prejudice.
And the consequences of such ignorance are themselves wreaking much --
very much -- damage, around the world and within the US itself.
The AIDS epidemic is exploding
in new populations around the world, particularly in developing nations
whose resources for offering the expensive treatments common in more wealthy
nations are much more scant. According to a statement this week by
Human Rights Watch, drug injecting accounts for a majority of HIV cases
in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Baltic states, and all of Central
Asia, as well as much of Southeast Asia and South America. Russia,
HRW points out, has more HIV cases now than all of North American, and
drug injection is responsible for as many as 80% of them.
That is why pressure is growing
on our side of the issue, too. The HRW statement was issued on the
occasion of the release of an open letter on the topic signed by numerous
organizations from 56 nations around the world, including the very nations
represented by anti-drug groups at Mark Souder's hearings two weeks before.
Editorials in both the New York Times and the Washington Post were right
on time, criticizing the Bush administration's stance on the issue last
To be blunt, if the Souders
of the world have their way with the UN, untold millions will die, unnecessarily.
In the face of such a catastrophe, a catastrophe already in progress, "the
needle and the damage done" hardly speaks to anything useful. A better
refrain for our time might be "the ignorance and the damage done."
Ignorance which greatly increases the harm of the needle.
-- END --
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