Friday, July 23, 2010

War on Drugs Deemed a Failure at the International AIDS Conference

The Vienna Declaration, a document drafted by the world's leading AIDS experts, became the centerpiece of the 18th International AIDS Conference held in Vienna this week. The statement declares the War on Drugs a 50-year-old failure, and calls on governments to adopt science-based drug policies. Experts argue that that the criminalization of drug use is fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
There is incontrovertible evidence that law enforcement has failed to curtail the market for illicit drugs, which is worth an estimated $320-billion (U.S.) a year, says Evan wood, founder of the International Center for Science in Drug Policy.

So, instead of merely arresting and jailing those who take illegal drugs, money should be spent on public-health efforts such as needle exchanges and methadone treatment. Removing the stigma and legal barriers will also make it easier for drug users to come forward to seek treatment for infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, as well as rehabilitative services.

“Basing drug policies on scientific evidence will not eliminate drug use or the problems stemming from drug injection,” the Vienna Declaration reads. “However, reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches … would allow for the redirection of vast financial resources to where they are needed most.”
Our punitive laws are expensive and ineffective. The supply of illicit drugs in the U.S. remains constant despite $50 billion spent on the failed War on Drugs every year. The mass incarceration of drug users doesn't seem to solve drug problems either. Handcuffs certainly don't cure drug addictions. With the money wasted on the drug war, there is little room left to fund addiction treatment and prevention programs. Outside of Africa, almost a third of all HIV infections stem from drug injections. Providing users with clean needle swaps, for example, is a sensible harm reduction strategy. More "extreme" strategies, including the legalization of drugs, seem to be considered more effective at dealing with drug problems than prohibition.
Dr. Evan Wood, an AIDS policy expert at the University of British Columbia and the chief author of the Vienna Declaration, cited Portugal’s approach. According to a 2009 report by the libertarian Cato Institute, in the decade since Portugal legalized possession of up to 10 days’ worth of any drug, including cocaine and heroin, its AIDS rate dropped by half, overdose deaths fell, many citizens sought treatment, drug use among young people fell and drug tourism did not develop. The institute called the policy “a resounding success.”
Although the premises of the Vienna Declaration should be concerning, who's paying attention? Only two governments have reacted to the document. Canada rejected it while Georgia's first lady signed it at a public ceremony. Not surprisingly, almost every top American official refused to discuss the declaration. One anonymous government official said he had just called the White House for guidance and was told no one had read it yet, and there was no time to respond. Will there ever be a more urgent time to take a deeper look into the failures of the War on Drugs?

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