Pubdate: Mon, 07 Mar 2005
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


American Bully Boy Tactics Over Global Drugs Policies Risk Deepening The 
HIV Crisis, Warns Nick Cater

This week's UN drugs conference in Vienna looks set to illustrate how 
American prohibitionist policies utterly fail to grasp global realities, 
while deepening the worldwide HIV/AIDS crisis.

The big issue is harm reduction, whether measures such as needle exchanges, 
legal injection centres and substitution therapies help lessen the negative 
consequences of drugs for users and their communities, especially with 
regards to health.

As well as proving useful in developed countries from Switzerland to 
Australia, these are vital options for states of the former Soviet Union 
and central Asia, where unsafe injectable drug use is often the main if not 
the overwhelming factor in a big upsurge in HIV infections.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently appeared to be joining 
the consensus among most UN agencies, many governments and plenty of 
charities in both the drugs and HIV fields that a harm reduction approach 
is essential, even if police efforts continue against producers, smugglers 
and dealers.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies put it 
well: "Forcing people who use drugs further underground and into situations 
where transmission of HIV/AIDS is more likely, and denying them access to 
life-saving treatment and prevention services is creating a public health 

"This happens even though the evidence from scientific and medical research 
on best practices and cost benefit analyses is overwhelmingly in favour of 
harm reduction programming ... The message is clear. It is time to be 
guided by the light of science, not by the darkness of ignorance and fear."

Despite the American experience of banning alcohol and thereby fostering 
organised crime, the US government's "just say no" drugs position matches 
its advocacy of sexual abstinence as its main response to HIV/AIDS. The 
policy reflects the irresponsible influence of the neocons and religious 
right in rejecting any flexibility over harm reduction strategies.

The US used crude muscle as UNODC's single largest paymaster to bully it 
back into line, suggesting that harm reduction strategies break the three 
global conventions on drugs and so are unacceptable for any state to adopt, 
even to fight an HIV/AIDS explosion.

American pressure extracted a humiliating letter from the UNODC executive 
director, Antonio Maria Costa, in which he agreed to "neither endorse 
needle exchange as a solution for drug abuse nor support public statements 
advocating such practices".

Yet, last July, Costa declared: "The HIV/AIDS epidemic among injecting drug 
users can be stopped - and even reversed - if drug users are provided, at 
an early stage and on a large scale, with comprehensive services such as 
outreach, provision of clean injecting equipment and a variety of treatment 
modalities, including substitution treatment.

"It is, however, a sad fact that less than 5%, and, in many high-risk 
areas, less than 1% of all drug users have access to prevention and care 
services. In too many countries, drug users are simply incarcerated. This 
is not a solution; in fact, it contributes to the rapid increase in the 
number of people living with HIV/AIDS."

Given that the "war on drugs" is already lost - illegal substances are 
available cheaply everywhere - and the war on terror cannot even halt 
heroin supplies from US-liberated Afghanistan, it is time to junk the UN 
conventions and look more sensibly at managing the world's enthusiasm for 
mood-altering substances.

In Vienna we need clear leadership from countries using or needing harm 
reduction strategies to show that the US, the biggest narcotics market and 
thus the greatest funder of the criminal and quite possibly the terrorist 
economy, is a dope when it comes to drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Beth