The United Nations and Harm Reduction

10 March 2005

Conflicting views within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role.

ISBN/ISSN
  • 2214-8906
#12

From 7-14 March 2005 the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will meet in Vienna. The confrontation between zero-tolerance ideologists and harm reduction pragmatists will be fiercer than ever before. The US government – the biggest donor of UNODC – threatened to cut funding to UNODC unless the agency assured that it would abstain from any support for harm reduction, including needle exchange programmes and substitution treatment. Conflicting views within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Conflicting views within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role. Longer existing tensions reached a new peak after a meeting between the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, and US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), Robert Charles, on November 10, 2004. At the meeting the US government - the biggest donor of UNODC - threatened Costa to cut funding to UNODC unless he assured that UNODC would abstain from any involvement in or expression of support for harm reduction, including needle exchange programmes.

Recommendations

    • Governments have to stand up to defend harm reduction practices or the few good lessons learned in drug policy making and methods proven to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS might be in danger.
 
    • Countries with long-standing experience with harm reduction practices and less vulnerable to US pressures - Europe, Canada and Australia - have a particular responsibility. The price for avoiding confrontation will be paid in Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union.
 
  • Tensions in US-UNODC relations should be resolved by more sustainable funding mechanisms, not by bowing to Republican flat-earthism. It is time to be guided by the light of science, not by the darkness of ignorance and fear.

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