Despite efforts by governments in Latin America, illicit drugs continue to provide one of the largest incomes for criminal organizations, enabling them to penetrate and corrupt political and social institutions.
Mexico has occupied the limelight when it comes to media attention focusing on drug-related violence in Latin America. However, it is actually Central America's Northern Triangle – consisting of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – currently experiencing much higher rates of violence and increasing Drug Trafficking Organization (DTOs) activity, thus providing an illustration of the 'balloon effect' previously experienced by Mexico itself after the implementation of Plan Colombia which was conceived at the end of the 90's. Together the countries of the Northern Triangle now form one of the most violent regions on earth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.