Nations Should Reject UN Drug Policy, New 10-Year Plan Omits Critical Protections on HIV and Human Rights

March 10, 2009 The new UN Political Declaration on Drugs, designed to guide drug policy for the next 10 years, lacks critically important measures for treating and stemming the spread of HIV, Human Rights Watch, the International AIDS Society, and the International Harm Reduction Association said today. The groups said that respect for human rights and HIV prevention should be at the heart of the policy, but that critical elements had been stripped from the final declaration. They called on member governments to refuse to support the declaration, which is being considered at the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) this week in Vienna. "Government delegations could have used this process to take stock of what has failed in the last decade in drug-control efforts, and to craft a new international drug policy that reflects current realities and challenges," said Prof. Gerry Stimson, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association. "Instead, they produced a declaration that is not only weak - it actually undermines fundamental health and human rights obligations." What is at issue is a series of measures known collectively as "harm reduction services," which have been endorsed by UN health and drug-control agencies, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. These measures include needle and syringe exchange and medication-assisted therapy (for example, with methadone), both inside and outside prisons, as essential to address HIV among people who use drugs. The groups noted that a wealth of evidence proves harm reduction is essential to HIV prevention for people who use drugs. The action was taken against the direct advice of UNAIDS, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the UN special rapporteurs on health and on torture. Up to 30 percent of all HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa occur via unsafe injecting drug use. The groups said there is clear evidence that harm reduction interventions can halt or even reverse HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs. "This political declaration fails public health," said Craig McClure, executive director of the International AIDS Society. "Coming less than 12 months after UN member states convened a high level meeting in New York to restate the international commitment to fight HIV, the denial of any reference in the declaration to life-saving harm reduction programs is unacceptable and unconscionable." The political declaration also fails human rights. In country after country around the world, abusive law enforcement practices conducted under the banner of the ‘war on drugs' result in extensive, and often horrific, human rights violations. In addition, overly restrictive interpretations of the international drug-control treaties at national level result in the denial of access to essential pain medications to tens of millions of people worldwide. Both of these issues were raised by the UN special rapporteur on health and the UN special rapporteur on torture, who wrote to the CND to urge explicit support for human rights within the political declaration. All member states of the UN have ratified at least one of the core UN human rights treaties, and the UN General Assembly has consistently stated that drug enforcement must be carried out in a manner consistent with respect for human rights. "Given the widespread human rights abuses around the world directly resulting from drug enforcement, human rights must be placed at the heart of UN drug policy," said Joseph Amon, director of Human Rights Watch's health and human rights division. "But the political declaration makes scant reference to the legal obligations of member states under international human rights treaties, nor does it insist on respect for human rights in drug policy." The international community should recognize that the current approach to international drug policy has failed, the organizations said. Concrete steps should be taken to set forth a drug policy framework incorporating evidence-based measures to address drug-related harm and the human rights obligations of states, and of the UN as an international organization, at its heart. This means supporting harm reduction measures. It means acknowledging that punitive drug policies don't work, and have taken a serious toll on the lives and health of millions of people. It also means acknowledging that we need a new way forward. The groups called on member states not to lend their names to a political declaration that does not sufficiently prioritize the centrality of harm reduction and human rights within the global response to drugs, and join the call from other civil society organizations for further efforts across the UN system to find a more effective, coherent, and relevant response to drugs
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Eastern European health crisis demands new drug policy

A new report highlights health and human rights impact of drug policy

Vienna-Vilnius, March 10, 2009 -- Over the last 10 years, increasing problem drug use and a limited response in Eastern Europe has led to epidemics of HIV and hepatitis. On the eve of a high level UN meeting to determine the future directions of global drug policy, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, in its new report, calls for practical solutions grounded in science and human rights.

The Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) researched the progress in 4 countries of Eastern Europe all of which have experienced a major increase in drug related problems. Prevalence of drug injection in Russia and Ukraine are now among the highest in the world. Between 1% and 2% of the population in both countries inject drugs and in both countries some of the world’s highest rates of HIV and hepatitis among injecting drug users are seen. The specter of the HIV epidemic spreading to the general population has led to some improvement drug policy, as programs began to be developed to provide medical and social services to people affected by drug dependency.

Though the evidence clearly shows that needle exchange programs, opioid substitution therapy and alternatives to imprisonment for drug users reduce the social and health costs of drug use to society, the application of these programs continues to be debated and therefore they are available only to less than 2% of those in need. Drug dependency treatment is available to only 1.9 - 10% of those in need in the 4 countries. While Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine have improved access to modern drug dependency treatment, Russia continues to ban low-cost, effective drug treatment options like opioid substitution therapy.

On March 11 – 12, 2009, a high-level segment of the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will convene during which ministers and other high-level government officials will evaluate the implementation and consequences of the Political Declaration adopted at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998 and will adopt a new Political Declaration. The 1998 Declaration committed UN member states to achieve significant and measurable results in reduction of the illicit supply and demand for drugs in 10 years.

The new EHRN report entitled, “The impact of drug policy on health and human rights in Eastern Europe: 10 years after UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs,” calls for a more balanced approach to drug policy with investment in public health and human rights equal to the investment that is made in reducing the supply of drugs.

Key findings:
¡P Georgia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine tracked a rapid growth of drug use and problem drug use with stabilization of the growth within last few years;
¡P Numbers of people ‘officially’ registered as drug users doubled in Lithuania and Russia
¡P In Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, national drug policy documents and budgets focus reducing drug supply as the key pillar of drug policy, neglecting investment in drug demand or harm reduction.
¡P Lithuania has a better balance between focus on drug supply and demand reduction policies. Since European Union accession health spending per drug user has increased significantly.
¡P Georgia remains the only country of the four that still criminalizes drug use per se. More money budgeted for drug testing than on drug dependency treatment. Fines for users who test positive may reach up to 200% of the average monthly salary.
¡P In all 4 countries, many people are incarcerated for drug related crimes and few have access to harm reduction services while rates of HIV in prisons is high and HIV transmission in prisons is recorded
¡P No alternatives to imprisonment are foreseen in Georgia and Russia; but are in legislation of Lithuania and Ukraine
¡P In Russia and Ukraine, the police subject drug users to physical and psychological abuse.
In Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, though all countries have ratified the Universal Declaration on human rights, but none of them mention human rights in the context of drug policies;
Russia and Ukraine experienced one of the fastest growing epidemics in the world in the last 5-6 years with almost 90% of 1.5 million Eastern Europeans with HIV living in those countries. Up to, 60-80% of all people living with HIV are injecting drug users.

When will they learn?!

It is just amazing the they are going to continue the drug war techniques of the last 100 years, when none of it has significantly, ever, reduced the availability of drugs, or the rate of addiction. They were supposed to have us "drug free" by 2008. So, because of the last failure, they are going to try it again,THE SAME WAY, for another ten years!? I am sorry, but that is insanity! Why are we to expect any change, after a hundred years of failures, by just continuing the same failed policies?!!

They can see what happened when they prohibited alcohol in the US. The only way they got Al Capone was on tax evasion! They could not stop, the killing of the mob, and the corruption, of the police force and politicians, by those same gangsters! Now, it is going to get better with less money to pay for the police and an economic depression coming on?! Give me a break! Corruption is only going to get worse. It makes one wonder if there is not, already, corruption driving this insane approach.

In the end, it appears the the people in charge are profiting just as much as the gangsters. It then gets hard to tell which side is really more addicted to the money. Since the law enforcement side is not even making a dent in the situation, then that means they want to support an ongoing illegal enterprise, to ensure that they continue collecting their paychecks! I bet the UN group deserves the same score the DEA got from the GAO, a couple of years back. A big fat ZERO!!

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