Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jul 2010
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Andy Ivens, The Province


Scientists under attack for denouncing the ineffective global war on
drugs are fighting back, says a University of B.C. associate professor
on the front lines of the battle.

Despite mountains of scientific evidence proving the prohibition on
drugs such as heroin is a failure, governments in Canada, the U.S. and
around the world continue to ignore the health and social harms cased
by their antiquated policies, Dr. Evan Wood told The Province on Wednesday.

Wood, director of the urban health research initiative at the B.C.
Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, is co-author of the Vienna
Declaration, which calls on the world's politicians to let scientific
evidence guide their policies on illicit drugs.

More than 11,000 people have signed the declaration, which was first
appeared on the Internet two weeks ago at,
and was published this week in The Lancet, a respected medical journal.

Among the signatories are five Nobel Prize winners; former presidents
of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia; scientists and experts from around the

"It has been a real outpouring of consensus from the scientific
community," Wood said in a phone interview from Vienna, where he is
attending the 18th International AIDS Conference.

HIV, the virus that causes deadly AIDS, is most commonly spread
through sexual contact and by injection drug users sharing
contaminated needles.

"The problem of injection drugs has often been overshadowed in past
[AIDS] conferences by the situation in Africa and the situation among
gay men," said Wood, adding the injection drug discussion of the HIV
epidemic "has really been quite a sidebar."

He called the war on drugs "just a global catastrophe.

"Up until now, the scientific community hasn't really been outspoken
about it," he said.

"Scientists have been attacked by groups seeking to maintain the
status quo.

"I have been in a leadership position involved with the evaluation of
the supervised injecting facility [Insite] in Vancouver and have
experienced first-hand how scientists promoting the notion that
addiction is a public-health problem and a medical problem can be
attacked for those views," said Wood.

He referred to the British government's firing last year of Prof.
David Nutt from his post as chairman of the Advisory Council on the
Misuse of Drugs for questioning the government's policy of cannabis

"I think there's a real recognition in the scientific community that
there's an ethical obligation to start speaking out about this," said

He finds the support from scientists for the Vienna Declaration

Vienna was chosen as the site for the 2010 conference because it is
home to the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs and a
crossroads for Westerners to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where
HIV infections from dirty needles are skyrocketing.

"One in 100 adults in Russia is already HIV-infected because of heroin
use," said Wood, chair of the committee that wrote the

"It's an injection-drug-related epidemic. Needle exchange is

He noted that although methadone maintenance therapy is widely
regarded as the best tool to combat a patient's heroin addiction,
"methadone is illegal in Russia. If a physician prescribes it they go
to prison, and there's a history of that.

"In Russia, they have this raging HIV epidemic," he

Wood points out the declaration stresses gang violence in cities such
as Vancouver is directly related to drug prohibition.

"When these drugs are made illegal, organized crime groups are
enriched by that," he said. They fight one another to maintain those

The war on drugs in the U.S. eats up valuable tax dollars that could
be spent more wisely elsewhere.

"In California, they spend more on incarceration than they do on
post-secondary education," said Wood.

"It's estimated that one in nine African-American males between the
ages of 25 and 35 are in prison on any given day in the U.S."

Wood said following the AIDS conference, delegates will take the
declaration home to their various governments and the UN.

He called the position of the UN on drug prohibition

"The United Nations needs to come to a coherent perspective on drug
policy," said Wood. "On the one hand, you have Secretary-General Ban
Ki-Moon, who has called for the decriminalization of drug users, you
have the [World Health Organization] and [the Joint United Nations
Program on HIV/AIDS], who have strongly been endorsing drug-policy

"And then you have the International Narcotics Control Board, the
mechanism within the United Nations that was created to maintain the
U.S. war on drugs.

"It has really been out of step with other UN groups," he

Wood, who has had his house broken into, presumably by a drug addict,
said Canadians are fed up with having drug-addicted criminals
victimize them.

"But the average person doesn't understand that the tough-laws
approaches being proposed by the Harper government will not achieve
their stated objective and they will worsen the problem," said Wood. 
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