Pubdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star


50 Parents, Including Five Canadian Mothers, To Address Session On
Global Problem

Donna May's daughter had been in a downward spiral for months. Once a 
happy young woman, with dimples and a quick sense of humour, Jac had 
become addicted to opioids.

She first took OxyContin to cope with the pain from a fall down the 
stairs in her home in Sault Ste. Marie. When the prescription ran 
out, she turned to fentanyl patches - a highly addictive opioid 20 
times stronger than heroin, and readily available on the street.

Jac began selling drugs to fuel her habit, lost custody of her three 
daughters, and ended up in a B.C. hospital with plural septic 
pneumonia and hepatitis C.

"I flew out to see her. She had no teeth. Her eyes were sunken and 
she weighed less than 100 pounds. It was a horrible situation for a 
mother to find her child in," May said. Months later, in 2012, her 
daughter died from complications related to drug use.

May is one of 50 parents, including five Canadian mothers, travelling 
to New York to address a special three-day United Nations Session on 
the World Drug Problem beginning Tuesday. Her message? Don't treat 
drug users like criminals.

She is joining a growing chorus of reformers who say drug prohibition 
has been a failure and the UN treaties - which prohibit the 
production and supply of drugs and criminalize users - are outdated 
and ineffective.

"The UN laws are killing a generation of children. I was raised with 
the notion that drugs were bad," says May. "Then I realized my 
daughter needed help." With access to safe injection sites, mental 
health treatment and naloxone, which reverses the effects of an 
overdose, May believes her daughter could have recovered.

In advance of the UN summit, the Lancet, an influential medical 
journal, published an article calling the treaties ineffective, and 
proposing all non-violent drug use and possession be decriminalized. 
The continued criminalization of drug use fuels HIV, hepatitis C and 
tuberculosis transmission, said the researchers, faulting the UN drug 
regulations for not distinguishing between drug use, and drug abuse.

The last time the UN held a special session on drugs was in 1998, 
when the slogan was: "Drug-Free World. We can do it!" The slogan this 
time around is "A Better World for Tomorrow's Youth."

Despite growing global opposition to prohibition, the UN is unlikely 
to endorse any major changes to its regulations, given vehement 
opposition from member states such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, 
Iran, Pakistan and several Southeast Asian countries. Many of these 
countries still use the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Still, researchers and policy experts say the tone of the debate has 
shifted. Political leaders can no longer credibly argue that the war 
on drugs has been a success. The goal of a drug-free world will 
likely never be reached. In the last two decades, the use of cannabis 
and pharmaceutical opioids has continued to rise, as has use of 
methamphetamines, while in Canada and the U.S., fentanyl overdoses 
have become significant public health problems. British Columbia 
recently declared a public health emergency over a significant 
increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths.

The consensus that prohibition is effective is dead, said Kasia 
Malinowska-Sempruch of the Open Society Foundations.

"The unreasonable countries will now be perceived as unreasonable," 
she said. "We are glad to have Canada back at the reform table. 
Countries with harm reduction programs have better outcomes."

In Canada, medicinal marijuana use is permitted and safe injection 
sites, already in place in Vancouver, are opening up in Toronto with 
the support of the new Liberal government. Plans are also afoot under 
the Trudeau government to decriminalize cannabis.

In the U. S. - once the principal champion of the war on drugs - 
several states have recently legalized marijuana, with little 
objection from the Obama administration. California, the world's 
8th-largest economy, is set to hold a referendum on marijuana 
legalization on election day, Nov. 8.

Portugal, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and some Latin American 
countries, including Uruguay, have undertaken similar reforms. 
Innovative experiments in drug regulation, including Switzerland's 
national health plan that supports heroin-assisted treatment and 
maintenance doses for addicts, are underway. In Mexico, the president 
of the Senate introduced a bill to Congress this month to legalize 
medicinal marijuana.

"We are going through a generational, century-wide transition from 
the failed drug prohibition of the 20th century to a new 21st-century 
drug control regime," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the 
Drug Policy Alliance. "It is like the way we changed our views on 
AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s." 
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