Pubdate: Tue, 03 Feb 2009
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Duncan Campbell and Afua Hirsch
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


A rift between the EU and US over how to deal with global trafficking in
illicit drugs is undermining international efforts to agree a new UN
strategy. The confrontation has been heightened because of suggestions
that the US negotiating team is pushing a hardline, Bush administration
"war on drugs", in contrast to the EU position which supports "harm
reduction" measures such as needle exchanges.

Talks are said to be at breaking point in Vienna where representatives
have gathered to hammer out a new UN declaration in time for a signing
ceremony at a drugs summit in mid-March. Negotiations, which have been
going on for three months, are due to resume tomorrow with no indication
of a breakthrough.

At the heart of the dispute is whether a commitment to "harm reduction"
should be included in the UN declaration of intent, which is published
every 10 years. In 1998 the declaration was "a drug-free world - we can do

EU countries, backed by Brazil and other Latin American countries,
Australia and New Zealand, say even with the best of intentions the world
will not be drug-free in 10 years and some commitment to tackling HIV and
addiction through needle exchange programmes and methadone and other drugs
should be included.

The US position, as maintained throughout the Bush years, is that such
inclusion sends the wrong message and must be resisted. President Obama
has already lifted the ban on federal funding for needle exchanges and is
known to have a more liberal approach to the issue, but the US negotiating
team is opposed to varying the "drug-free" strategies of the past. The US
is backed by Russia and Japan.

Governments at the talks acknowledge that no consensus has been reached.
"Negotiations are currently complex but we are hopeful that a satisfactory
conclusion can be achieved," a Home Office spokesman said yesterday.

Drugs policy experts expressed concern at the stalemate. "It is troubling
that, despite clear global evidence of the effectiveness of harm reduction
in reducing HIV and its acceptance in every other UN body, that the US is
still resisting its inclusion," said Mike Trace, chair of the
International Drug Policy Consortium and former UK deputy drugs tsar. "We
are sure the incoming administration will take a different view but they
will have to move fast or this will be the position for the next 10

Danny Kushlick of Transform, the British drugs reform charity, said talks
were at a crucial stage. "The race is now on to change the instructions
from US officials before the ink dries on the previous administration's
line," he said. "The implications of changing the political line is
enormous for those who have suffered under the US administration's refusal
to support basic harm reduction measures."
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