International Experts Call For Global Decriminalization of Drugs

An international commission led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet medical journal recently called for the global decriminalization of drugs in order to decrease violence, disease and overdose deaths.

Writing in The Lancet on March 24, the experts argued that zero-tolerance policies directly contributed to drug problems across the world and had done little to disrupt illegal drug trafficking.

The commission’s policy recommendations included:

  • Decriminalizing minor and non-violent drug use, possession and petty sale.
  • Developing policies to reduce violence and discrimination in law enforcement.
  • Increasing access to overdose-reversal medications.
  • Increasing funding for addiction treatment and social services.

“The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” Commissioner Chris Beyrer of Johns Hopkins said in a press release. “The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”

The commission conducted a comprehensive review of previous research, studies and other evidence regarding violence, incarceration and drug policies. It found that law enforcement efforts have led to increased violence, homicides and racial biases in law enforcement.

The commission is composed of public health experts from universities and research institutions around the world. It is chaired by Adeeba Kamarulzaman of the University of Malaya and Michel Kazatchkine, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/Aids in Eastern Europe and central Asia.

“The idea of reducing harm is central to public policy in so many areas from tobacco and alcohol regulation to food or traffic safety, but when it comes to drugs, standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected,” Commissioner Joanne Csete of Columbia University said in a press release. “Worse still, by dismissing extensive evidence of the health and human rights harms of drug policies, countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities to their citizens.

“Decriminalization of non-violent minor drug offenses is a first and urgent step in a longer process of fundamentally rethinking and reorienting drug policies at a national and international level. As long as prohibition continues, parallel criminal markets, violence and repression will continue.”

Commission: The War on Drugs Has Failed

When the United Nations special session on drug use was held in 1998, the goal was to reduce the negative public health effects by implementing worldwide bans on use, possession, production and trafficking of illicit substances, according to the Guardian.

That strategy has failed, according to the commission.

Using Mexico as an example, the commission pointed out the dangers of military involvement in law enforcement. The nation’s life expectancy has dropped and homicides have increased at an unprecedented rate.

The commission also used the United States as an example of failed law enforcement policies, pointing out the war on drugs’ racial biases. African American men have been arrested, prosecuted and sentenced more often and more harshly than white men in the country.

The commission’s report comprised several additional recommendations, including:

  • Reduce prison sentences for women involved in non-violent crimes and exploited as “drug mules.”
  • Slowly move toward legally regulated drug markets.
  • Expand access to clean needles, medication-assisted treatment and overdose-reversal drugs such as Naloxone.
  • End the spraying of drug crops with toxic pesticides.

The commission’s report was published less than a month before the United Nation’s special session on drugs is scheduled to be held from April 19 to April 21 in New York City.

White House Pledges $116 Million to Treat Opioid Epidemic

The White House announced $116 million in additional funding for treatment measures to combat the opioid epidemic in the U.S. on March 29.

The Obama Administration’s plan included nine actions which either supported treatment efforts or expanded access to treatment.

The actions included:

  • Expanding access to opioid addiction treatment.
  • Establishing a mental health and substance use disorder parity task force.
  • Implementing mental health and substance use disorder parity in Medicaid.
  • Preventing opioid overdose deaths by expanding access to naloxone.
  • Expanding public health-public safety partnerships to combat the spread of heroin.
  • Specific efforts targeting substance use disorders in rural communities.
  • Implementing syringe services programs.
  • Developing new private sector commitments.

An additional $7 million was proposed to help fund the U.S. Department of Justice’s community policing efforts.

The difference in the amount of money proposed to fund treatment options compared to law enforcement efforts is symbolic of President Obama’s position on ending in the war on drugs.

“All too often the response to the disease of addiction has been criminalization and incarceration,” President Obama said at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit March 29 in Atlanta. “We have to make sure that our medical community, our scientific community, that individuals and all of us are working together to address this problem.”

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