Pubdate: Sat, 23 Aug 2008
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2008sThe Australian
Author: John Herron
Note: Dr John Herron is the chairman of the Australian National Council on


IN 1998, the United Nations held a general assembly special session on
drugs and set 2008 as the target date to eliminate, or significantly
reduce, the world's drug production and use.

Well, here we are in 2008, and while we've certainly come a long way,
drugs still remain a worldwide problem.

The elimination of drugs is an ideal many would like to see achieved,
but we need to approach drug issues in a realistic and pragmatic
manner. Fortunately, the next UN initiative sees the potential to
formulate realistic goals and some positive changes for the future,
including to the drug control conventions which govern global drug
control, and to which many countries (including Australia) are

Why do we need to make changes to our global drug control efforts? To
start with, the three drug control conventions currently have a heavy
law enforcement focus. While this is a key aspect of any comprehensive
drug control effort, law enforcement is just one of many areas that
need to be engaged when tackling drug problems.

Even the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, has himself said that "tighter controls in
one region, or on one product, produce a swelling of activity
elsewhere. As a result of this balloon effect, the problem is
displaced, but not solved."

In addition, it is quite concerning to me and many others that human
rights, and their protection, are only referred to once across all
three drug control conventions.

Frankly, this is not good enough, especially when considering that
those with drug problems are often subjected to severe stigmatisation
and discrimination in communities across the world. To put it simply,
we have to update the conventions to reflect our most modern and
effective approaches of tackling the world's drug problem.

Both Australia and New Zealand have balanced and pragmatic drug
policies compared with many other regions in the world.

Why do we do this? Because it works: our national drug strategies are
also among the few that are subjected to comprehensive evaluations,
and as a result we have long had an evidence-based approach to
formulating our drug strategies.

This had led to declining levels of drug use and overdoses, and the
maintenance of one of the lowest rates of HIV amongst injecting drug
users. We have a global responsibility to share our knowledge and
success with other countries and to learn from the approaches of other
nations in areas they have done better.

In our region, non-government organisations (NGOs) provide many
services within the alcohol and other drug sector. Inevitably, NGOs
are confronted with many challenges from being under-resourced and
overworked -- which makes attracting and keeping staff a difficult
task for many agencies. Despite this, or perhaps because of these
circumstances, many NGOs often offer the most innovative treatment

It has therefore been very unfortunate that NGOs and their invaluable
experience has not been utilised more in important decisions made at
the UN level on drug issues.

This time, however, a historic achievement was made recently when the
UN actively sought input from NGOs in a review on drug control since
1998. NGOs across the globe reflected on what has been achieved in the
past 10 years and provided recommendations on how to improve and
strengthen these conventions, but also for enhancing NGO involvement
in drug policy at the government and UN level.

In Australia, the Australian National Council on Drugs worked with our
colleagues at the New Zealand Drug Foundation to develop a report
outlining the response from our region.

Our regional report confirmed what many of us already knew: NGOs have
much to offer including frontline experience, independent perspectives
and innovative strategies for how to make our drug policy even more

I was very pleased and impressed that so many NGOs across the sector
participated in this project in the face of such great time and
resource limitations.

Why did they do this? For the greater good. It is something which
drives the NGOs in this sector, and they wanted the opportunity to
influence global decision making and to promote the successes of our
region in the hope of achieving better outcomes for others in the world.

In July, regional representatives, including a delegation from
Australia and New Zealand, met at an international forum in Vienna to
propose new drug policy resolutions. This meeting concluded that equal
weighting should be given to supply and demand reduction across the
three drug control conventions. Furthermore, that each country should
consider drug misuse primarily as a health issue.

The importance of such resolutions should not be underestimated --
they have the potential to change the face of drug issues on a global

There seem to be so few opportunities to celebrate our success within
the drug sector -- numerous challenges will always be apparent.
However, what we have seen recently has been no small feat, and I
congratulate the UN and most of all the NGOs, which gave their time
and resources to participate.

I now wait in anticipation for March next year when a high-level UN
meeting of government delegates will meet to discuss the last 10 years
of drug issues, including a very important NGO perspective.

I urge them to adopt a realistic and ground-breaking approach to
battling the world's drug problem, to ensure that the many victims of
some current drug control strategies are helped to overcome problems
rather than be further harmed.
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath