The war on drugs is a failure that is fuelling the global HIV/AIDS epidemic by driving people away from treatment, an international group says.
In a report formally released Tuesday, the Global Commission on Drug Policy — which includes six former presidents, British business magnate Richard Branson and former Supreme Court of Canada Justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour — condemns tough enforcement policies that focus on criminalization and punishment over prevention and public health programs.
“This war is not slowing drug use,” Branson said, calling it “perhaps the greatest failure” of public policy in the past 40 years.
“Our message is that [drug] prohibition law has failed” at preventing drug use and protecting people’s health, Michel Kazatchkine, a French physician and former director of the The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said from London, England
The war on drugs has failed to reduce the supply and demand, said Ruth Dreifuss, a former president of Switzerland and a co-author of the report.
The document calls on political leaders from all levels of government to ditch “repressive” drug policies in favour of an “evidence-based” approach.
The evidence that harm reduction works is conclusive, Kazatchkine said.
He added that prohibition laws have also led to a “war on users,” in which people are driven underground, away from prevention and care, such as sterile syringes.
The report also suggests that a tough-on-drugs policy spreads violence and leads to mass incarceration.
The report comes as Canada’s Conservative government comes under fire for passing tough-on-drugs legislation — a policy direction that has drawn condemnation in past from the international panel. But the report singles out positive progress in British Columbia, where public health interventions like syringe distribution, substitution programs and medically supervised injecting facilities have led to historic low rates of HIV.
“That is one story for Canada, but of course at the federal level there has been an increasing emphasis recently on treating addiction as a criminal justice issue, and we’re fairly unique internationally for taking that approach,” said Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.
“Even in the United States, the real birthplace of the war on drugs, they’re now heading in a different direction.” Wood told CBC News. “The Titanic is slowly turning around in the U.S., while in Canada we’re entrenching the view that drug addiction is a criminal justice issue.”