Another summer festival season, another slate of tragic overdoses and a few overwrought reactions about the need to ban electronic music parties. “Party drugs” in general have been blamed for the deaths of two at a Toronto music festival and another young person at a B.C. festival. Another six were treated at a Calgary festival for overdoses, though all got help in time. Advocates argue that MDMA, when taken safely and in the right amounts by healthy adults, can be relatively innocuous. It’s time to talk about MDMA’s history, its Canadian connection, and that it might also be time to talk about harm reduction.
Although illicit drug use has been declining in the UK, long-term problem drug use and drug-related deaths are not decreasing, says the British Medical Association. Its Board of Science says evidence shows the current prohibitive approach to drug use is not working. It says doctors should inform drugs policy to put patients' needs first.
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.
"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."
The primary objective of this paper is to evaluate whether the drug conventions permit states to experiment with alternatives to the punitive prohibitionist policies that have typified the global approach to combating the negative effects of personal drug use. Because harm minimization encompasses most policies providing alternatives to punitive prohibition, the analysis that follows will focus on comparing the two strategies, in an effort to frame the current debate on drug policy.