The Swiss look set to approve the government's drugs policy, including the prescription of heroin to addicts, but will reject a plan to decriminalise cannabis. More than two-thirds of voters approved a plan to enshrine the government's four-pillar drugs policy in law. The official drugs strategy is based on prevention, harm reduction, therapy and repression. It was devised in response to the open drugs scene in Zurich and other Swiss cities during the 1990s.
Recently, the UNODC has begun to take notice of the impact of its counternarcotics work on human rights. Antonio Maria Costa, the current executive director, has set out a series of recommendations for internal reform intended to improve the agency's human rights performance. This leadership on human rights is very welcome, and much needed, but it may already be under threat. Costa leaves his post at the end of July. Unfortunately, the current frontrunner for the role of UN drug tsar is the candidate being pushed by the Russian government.
Portugal's move to decriminalize illicit substances—Europe's most liberal drug legislation—turns 10 years old this month amid new scrutiny and plaudits. Portugal's decriminalization regime has caught the eye of regulators in Europe and beyond since it was implemented in 2001. Proponents credit the program for stanching one of Europe's worst drug epidemics. Approaching a decade in force, it is providing a real-world model of one way to address an issue that is a social and economic drag on countries world-wide.
The West Coast is a different world when it comes to progress on drug policy reform. Three of the four states most likely to see strong pushes for marijuana legalization in the next couple of years are on the West Coast (the other being Colorado). And medical marijuana is a fact of life from San Diego to Seattle. But it's not just pot politics that makes the West Coast different. The region has also been a pioneer in sentencing reform and harm reduction practices, even if countervailing forces remain strong and both policy areas remain contested terrain.
Today the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report. I’ve been following the Board for many, many years now, have often criticized its narrow interpretation of the treaties, have questioned the validity of its usually negative comments about any policy changes in the direction of harm reduction or decriminalization, and have warned repeatedly about its tendency to overstep its clearly defined mandate.
The number of drug-overdose deaths on Vancouver’s notorious downtown Eastside fell sharply after the opening of a safe injection site, new research shows. The study, published online Monday in the medical journal The Lancet, shows that fatal overdoses dropped 35 per cent in the vicinity of Insite in the two years after it opened. By comparison, OD deaths dropped only 9 per cent in the rest of Vancouver in that same period.
"Sending more people to prison will not reduce drug addiction or improve public health," said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, an advocacy group for people with HIV which works with injecting drug users (IDUs). "Russian prisons are terrible places full of HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Drugs are often even more accessible there than anywhere else." She added: "What we need instead of this harsh drug control rhetoric is greater emphasis on rehabilitation, substitution treatment, case management for drug users and protection from HIV."
Vancouver health officials will distribute new crack pipes to non-injection drug users this fall as part of a pilot project aimed at engaging crack cocaine smokers and reducing the transmission of disease such as hepatitis C, HIV and even respiratory illnesses. The program, part of Vancouver's harm reduction strategy, is expected to start in October and run for six months to a year. The intent is to connect health care workers with crack cocaine smokers to evaluate how many of the drug users are in the city and what equipment they need to lower their risk of catching diseases. A kit with a clean, unused pipe, mouthpiece, filter and condoms will be handed out to the participants.
A decision to stop a clean crack-pipe distribution program has disappointed those working to rehabilitate street addicts. Since 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van. More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.
Two out-of-service ambulances have been put back into service as mobile injection rooms for drug addicts in Copenhagen (Denmark). The vehicles will be used to transport a team of volunteer doctors and nurses and a stock of clean needles in the Vesterbro district.
Most of us can agree that current drug policy in North America is a disaster. The global war on drugs can’t be won. Locking up addicts in jail is both futile and inhumane. We’re squandering billions on policies that hurt people and don’t work. Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, thinks our current policies are a disaster. But he also thinks the legalizers are just as misguided as the hard-liners with their fantasies of a drug-free world. His information-packed new book, Drugs and Drug Policy, is full of inconvenient facts that demolish both the hawks and the doves.
Eric E. Sterling, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
01 November 2011
If Congress were functioning properly, it would take the time to consider the many potential improvements in drug policy that could save lives by preventing overdose, reducing the spread of HIV, and lessening violence, preventing crime, and saving money. With a commitment to governing, instead of grandstanding, Congress could make a careful analysis and weigh the alternatives.
Media reports of two deaths at the weekend in the same party venue have once again been accompanied by police suggestions that the drug responsible is ecstasy that may be from a "contaminated" batch. Speculation as to the cause of these tragic deaths is unhelpful, and recent experience with mephedrone has shown such preliminary comments are often quite wrong, we will know the truth only when toxicology results are reported.
The Platzspitz or “Needle Park” in Zürich was one of the world’s most notorious open drug scenes, attracting users from all over Europe. After its closure, a new drugs policy was introduced in Switzerland to better protect drug addicts. Dr André Seidenberg was a pioneer of this approach. Swiss TV took him back to the Needle Park, along with a heroin addict who was heavily involved in the scene at that time. (See also: Ten years of heroin handouts fixes drug crime, Swissinfo, January 24, 2004)
An approach known as drug-market intervention (DMI) was first used in High Point, North Carolina, in 2004 and since then has been tried in more than 30 cities and counties. It is the brainchild of David Kennedy, a criminologist at John Jay College in New York, who thinks that “the most troubled communities can survive the public-health and family issues that come with even the highest levels of addiction. They can’t survive the community impact that comes with overt drug markets”—by which he means markets that draw outsiders to the neighbourhood. Once these are entrenched, a range of problems follow: not just drug use and sales, but open prostitution, muggings, robberies, declining property values, and the loss of businesses and safe public spaces.
President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador denied that his government had rewarded his country's two largest street gangs for striking a truce credited with a dramatic drop in the staggering national homicide rate. Funes said his administration had not negotiated with the gangsters. He did say that the government responded to news of the truce by transferring 30 gang leaders to lower-security jails so they could order their underlings to stop attacking each other.
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.
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.
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.