The Home Affairs Select Committee in the United Kingdom report on drug policy draws on lessons from Portugal’s decriminalisation of drug possession and puts forward a case for the UK reconsidering its own policies. Alex Stevens assesses the situation in Portugal, noting that while decriminalisation has coincided with a fall in the most problematic forms of drug use, it is not the only factor. (See also: Portugal: Ten Years After Decriminalization)
Philippe Lucas, Amanda Reiman, Mitch Earleywine, Stephanie K. McGowan, Megan Oleson, Michael P. Coward, Brian Thomas
19 November 2012
This article examines the subjective impact of medical cannabis on the use of both licit and illicit substances via self-report from 404 medical cannabis patients recruited from four dispensaries in British Columbia, Canada. The aim of this study is to examine a phenomenon called substitution effect, in which the use of one product or substance is influenced by the use or availability of another.
In September 2012, the mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, launched the first centre for drug addicts in the Bronx, a marginalised city-centre neighbourhood. Called the Medical Care Centre for Dependent Drug Users (Centro de Atención Médica a Drogodependientes - CAMAD), it is staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors and nurses. The people given care in these centres are in an at-risk situation and socially excluded due to their high levels of drug dependency.
From the beginning of next year, the government will launch a new initiative in the struggle against drug-related deaths. In collaboration with far-left support party Enhedslisten (EL), the government has decided to set aside six million kroner for so-called ‘overdose kits’ that are intended to aid hard-core drug abusers. The kit will contain revival equipment and doses of the drug Naloxon, which is used to counter the effects of an opiate overdose.
As the Thai police announce their war on drugs a success, the Ministry of Justice, alongside the TNI and the IDPC hold their high level meeting to review the country's response to drug use. With the alarming rise of HIV-positive drug injectors, again comes the question, how to measure ‘‘success’’ when it comes to drug policies?
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program
16 August 2012
It’s sad that drug policy reform must always be wrapped tragedy but alas – in the context of drugs – crisis has historically been the mother of invention. It was in the face of thousands of overdoses and the highest HIV prevalence in Western Europe that Switzerland introduced effective heroin-prescription programmes, safe injection facilities, needle and syringe-exchange programmes and low-threshold methadone services.
Portugal's famously liberal drug policy has been held up as a model for other countries - Norway is considering adopting parts of it and countries as far afield as Argentina have expressed interest. But experts warn that budget cuts and the threat of more cuts to come - combined with an increase in hard drug abuse - risk turning it into a shadow of its former self. "We have a certain responsibility to maintain the essential despite the recession," said Joao Goulao, the national drugs agency chief. "Other countries do look at us and seek our expertise."
As a participant at last week’s 19th International HIV/AIDS Conference, I was reminded of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark’s call to arms earlier in July that there is a new prescription for the AIDS response: ‘courage is needed’.
Portugal’s anti-drug policies have been gaining international visibility since this country's 2001 decision to eliminate all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug consumption, still opposed by political sectors like the right, was made possible by “favourable public opinion…it arose from society,” where virtually every family had a member or friend with a drug abuse problem, says João Goulão president of this country’s Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
There is nothing politically easier in most countries than scapegoating drugs and drug users as the source of all social problems. Politicians can expect a boost in their popularity when they support repressive measures against drugs and are dismissive of public services for people who use illicit drugs.
The global war on drugs is driving the HIV pandemic among people who use drugs and their sexual partners. Throughout the world, research has consistently shown that repressive drug law enforcement practices force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risk becomes markedly elevated. Mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders also plays a major role in spreading the pandemic. Today, there are an estimated 33 million people worldwide living with HIV – and injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Canada must embrace a public health approach to drug addiction rather than treating it as a criminal justice issue in order to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users, says a Canadian adviser for a new global report. The report, The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS - How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic, released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, condemned the worldwide war on drugs as a "remarkable failure" and claimed it is driving the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users and their sexual partners.
Several top public health officials are proposing a rethinking of current illegal-drug policies they assert spurs on a global problem involving ecstasy, one that even the White House says is made in Canada, specifically B.C. But the suggestion for dialogue about a careful, science-based crafting of new health-oriented regulations comes at the same time the federal government has taken the polar opposite course with its omnibus crime bill. In mid-March, the class of drugs that includes the substance MDMA — considered the pure and original form of ecstasy — was bumped up to a Schedule I drug under Bill C-10, giving it heightened status alongside heroin and cocaine.
For the past 10 to 20 years, drug consumption rooms (DCRs) have become an integrated part of the drug treatment and harm reduction strategy in a variety of countries in Western Europe, North America and Australia. However, they have not yet been established in the majority of countries worldwide.
In the year 2000, as the president of Poland, I signed one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession. Any amount of illicit substances a person possessed meant they were eligible for up to three years in prison. Our hope was that this would help to liberate Poland, and especially its youths, from drugs that not only have a potential to ruin the lives of the people who abuse them but also have been propelling the spread of HIV among people who inject them. We were mistaken on both of our assumptions.
An alliance of influential charities has condemned a key government drugs strategy document, calling it an "ideological attack" on proven addiction treatments and "dangerously and deeply flawed". It warns that ministers will be putting lives at risk if proposed plans to push through "abstinence-based" approaches go ahead.
The prescription of substitution drugs, such as methadone and buprenorphine, has become a mainstream, first-line treatment for opioid dependence, with around 700 000 of Europe’s 1.3 million problem opioid users receiving substitution treatment today. But a small minority of entrenched opioid users repeatedly fails to respond to interventions of this kind. Findings from international trials now suggest that the supervised use of medicinal heroin can be an effective second-line treatment for this small, and previously unresponsive, group. In this latest EMCDDA Insights report, experts describe the development as ‘an important clinical step forward’.