Evan Wood, Patricia M. Spittal, Will Small, Thomas Kerr, Kathy Li, Robert S. Hogg, Mark W. Tyndall, Julio S.G. Montaner, Martin T. Schechter
10 May 2004
Law enforcement is often used in an effort to reduce the social, community and health-related harms of illicit drug use by injection drug users (IDUs). There are, however, few data on the benefits of such enforcement or on the potential harms. A large-scale police “crackdown” to control illicit drug use in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside provided us with an opportunity to evaluate the effect.
Globally, illicit drug policy is largely based on two central policy objectives. The first is to reduce the demand for illegal drugs mainly through criminalisation, drug prevention and treatment, and the second is to reduce the supply of illegal drugs primarily through law enforcement initiatives.
Injecting drug users (IDUs) account for the largest share of HIV infections in China, Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. Harm reduction measures such as access to clean needles and drug treatment with methadone or buprenorphine have been proven to reduce HIV risk behaviors. Yet law enforcement officials in many countries harass drug users at drug treatment clinics and needle exchange points, confiscate their medications, or arrest them for possession of clean syringes. These police practices help fuel the HIV epidemic by driving drug users away from lifesaving care while doing little to stem drug use.
Harm-reduction as a policy goal implies targeting directly drug-related harms rather than drug use itself. So far it has been largely a public health sector movement, focused on harms to users, most notably from heroin overdose, injection drug use and club drugs. Harm-reduction has offered fewer solutions to the problems of drug-related crime, violence, corruption or market externalities. However, harm-reduction has potentially much broader application when applied to the entire suite of harms generated by the production, distribution, consumption and control of drugs, not just drug use.
The police, who used to shoot first and ask questions later in Santa Marta, a Rio de Janeiro shantytown, are now getting on well with the local community – the result of a state government plan that nevertheless has drawn criticism. Out of long habit, many local residents in the Santa Marta "favela" do not dare talk openly about the police who have been permanently posted in their neighbourhood for the past six months, as part of what the Rio de Janeiro state government describes as a plan to "pacify" the slums.
It was exactly six years ago this week that police conducted their first full-scale raid on Pusher Street, the famed road in the city’s Christiania area where people could openly buy hashish. The raids were the result of the Liberal-Conservative government’s decision to crack down hard on the area’s hash trade. But today, both police and politicians admit that the trade still thrives on the street, if in a somewhat more discreet fashion.
Dan Werb, Greg Rowell, Gordon Guyatt, Thomas Kerr, Julio Montaner, Evan Wood
01 April 2010
This report consists of a scientific review that illustrates the relationship between drug law enforcement and drug-related violence. Violence is among the primary concerns of communities around the world, and research from many settings has demonstrated clear links between violence and the illicit drug trade, particularly in urban settings. While violence has traditionally been framed as resulting from the effects of drugs on individual users (e.g., drug-induced psychosis), violence in drug markets and in drug-producing areas such as Mexico is increasingly understood as a means for drug gangs to gain or maintain a share of the lucrative illicit drug market.
The policy of a saturation police presence in the favelas or shantytowns that are home to around 20 percent of the population of Rio de Jnaeiro is merely a means of criminalising poverty, because it does nothing to address the underlying question of social exclusion, which drives the violence, human rights groups complain. A year and a half ago, State Governor Sergio Cabral began to send Pacification Police Units (UPPs), made up of members of the military police, into the slums to wrest control from drug gangs. The UPPs "are just one more way to exercise control over the poor," said Patricia Oliveira, a member of the Community Network Against Violence.
Critics of the international drug control regime contend that supply-oriented policy interventions are not just ineffective, but they also produce unintended adverse consequences. Research suggests their claims have merit. Lasting local reductions in opium production are possible, albeit rare; but, unless global demand shrinks, production will shift elsewhere, with little or no effect on the aggregate supply of heroin and, potentially, at some expense to exiting and newly emerging suppliers.
Last month the film Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2) was released in Brazil. It is a sequel to the very successful 2007 film Elite Squad, a semi-fictional account of the BOPE – special heavily armed police units that invade the slums in Rio de Janeiro going after the drug trafficking gangs. In the new sequel the BOPE have a new enemy: paramilitary groups known as 'milícias' in stead of the usual suspects, the drug gangs of Rio.
Reports of human rights abuses committed during the police and military occupation of several favelas in this Brazilian city are jeopardising local residents’ newfound support for the security forces and posing challenges within the police. "I have never felt so humiliated," a local woman who takes in people’s laundry for a living told IPS. Asking to be identified merely as "D", she talked about what happened during the massive joint police and armed forces incursion in the Complexo do Alemão, a series of favelas or shantytowns on the north side of Rio de Janeiro.
The war on drugs creates massive costs, resulting from the enforcement-led approach that puts organised crime in control of the trade. It is time to count these costs and explore the alternatives, using the best evidence available, to deliver a safer, healthier and more just world.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) invited a group of 20 experts for a round-table discussion at the WOLA office in Washington DC . The main question on the table: can the concept of “harm reduction” be applied to supply-oriented challenges to better address the harms associated with illicit drug production and distribution, but also minimize the harms that stem from drug control itself?
Four decades after Washington declared its "war on drugs" and began to spread the doctrine south of the U.S. border, the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro decided to shift away from that approach towards a strategy focused on community policing. The new focus has already produced results in some of the city’s favelas or shanty towns, which were long off-limits to outsiders, including police. The process began in 2009 with the installation of "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) in the favelas.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) translated the article La raíz de la violencia by Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez that was originally published in Spanish in the June 2011 edition of the Mexican magazine Nexos. Guerrero’s article, "At the Root of the Violence," deserves as wide an audience as possible. The author makes a compelling case for shifting to a strategy of "deterrence" to reduce the horrific violence that has been spreading in Mexico.
This brief report outlines the links between cannabis prohibition in British Columbia (Canada) and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province, and is the first report of a coalition of concerned citizens and experts known as Stop the Violence BC. The report also defines the public health concept “regulation” and seeks to set the stage for a much needed public conversation and action on the part of BC politicians.
The "take-over" of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, by heavily armed police and military units was seen by some as a media spectacle and by others as part of a successful strategy of regaining state control over an area ruled by armed drug gangs. Less than three hours after 3,000 police and soldiers occupied the favela or in the south of the city, Rio de Janeiro state Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame announced the "recovery of the territory" by the state.
Scientists, lawyers, police, social workers, doctors and directors of public prosecution are pleading for change but no political party will touch the issue in Australia. Public debate on the subject remains as primitive as ever. After all these years we are still dealing with the basics – over and over again. That's no accident. It's what moral panic driven by some media does.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), together with Transform Drug Policy Foundation, were among the NGOs launching the Count the Costs campaign to urge governments to evaluate the impacts of the 50 years old UN drug control system. This campaign movie highlights one of the most compelling issue, the human rights impacts of the global war on drugs (read Transform's report on the human rights costs).
This note provides an overview of human rights and international law concerns raised by the 2011 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board. These include questionable legal reasoning by the Board; the absence of broader human rights norms; problematic statements on specific issues; unqualified comments and support for policies despite human rights risks; and stigmatising language unbecoming a UN entity. These are patterns that are evident in previous Annual Reports.