BERLIN, Jul 15 (IPS) – The failed “war on drugs” has allowed an increase in HIV infections in some countries, according to a declaration approved this Wednesday by three former Latin American presidents on the eve of the XVIII International AIDS Conference, which It will start this Sunday in Vienna.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, injection drug use is the main source of transmission of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS). Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, one in three new infections occur through this route, experts will report at the next meeting in the Austrian capital, which will last a week.
This is stimulated, among other things, by the marginalization in which many consumers live, persecuted by the authorities and far from basic health services.
“The war on drugs has failed. Instead of clinging to failed policies with disastrous consequences, we must direct our efforts towards reducing consumption and reducing the harm caused by drugs in people and in society,” said the former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).
“Repressive policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological views. The way to protect human rights, security and health is a strategy of peace, not war,” he added.
Cardoso, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Colombian César Gaviria (1990-1994) supported the Vienna Declaration, which lists various evils caused by the war on drugs and points out that the criminalization of consumers has only produced a rise in incarceration rates, which in turn has increased the burden on taxpayers.
The text calls on countries to carry out a transparent review of the effectiveness of current policies and to carry out reforms based on evidence provided by science and public health objectives.
The conference in Vienna will bring together some 20,000 participants. Organizers hope they too will endorse the statement and join the growing call for evidence-based anti-drug policy.
Forty leading scientists and experts worked on the statement, said Evan Wood, a researcher at the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and founder of the International Center for Science in Drug Policy.
“The declaration calls for decriminalizing drug users, as the scientific evidence clearly indicates that this pushes them to the margins of society with little access to HIV prevention and other public health services,” Wood said in an interview.
Criminalizing consumers is a recipe for spreading AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and other diseases. The chances of getting HIV from shared syringes and needles are three times higher than those from unprotected sex.
In Russia, the number of infected people rose from 100,000 to one million, mainly among injecting drug users. This is largely a result of the rejection of so-called “harm reduction” policies.
These initiatives, which include the provision of methadone (medication that helps control addiction), clean syringes and counseling to consumers, have proven to be effective in controlling drugs, crime and associated violence, as well as in reducing contagion. of HIV.
But methadone is illegal in Russia, Uzbekistan and other countries. There are no official clean-for-used syringe and needle exchange programs in more than 70 nations.
Methadone is still legal in Canada, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is withdrawing support for needle-exchange programs, not because they don’t work, but on moral or ideological grounds, Reed said. “Canada is removing harm reduction policies from its drug strategy and advocating a tougher line against users, just like in the United States.”
On the other hand, the criminalization of consumers moves a lot of resources in the United States, where there are more than two million people incarcerated, prison administration is a lucrative business and billions of dollars are poured into the war on drugs.
Governments and the general public do not always understand that the war on drugs is often the cause of violence and associated crime. Illicit drug trafficking is based on supply and demand.
High-profile arrests of major traffickers simply leave a power vacuum that directly leads to further violence. Criminal gangs fight for business, experts say.
“The reality is that heavy-handed drug policies do more harm than good,” Wood said.
A review of 20 years of scientific research conducted last fall found that 82 percent of studies agreed that the various drug wars simply increased violence. Mexico is a clear example.
In 2006, that country launched a massive national anti-narcotics campaign. In 2008 alone, drug-related violence claimed 6,290 lives, twice as many as in 2007. In the first weeks of 2009, more than 1,000 people had died. As of 2006, the total number of those killed exceeded 17,000, including hundreds of judges, police officers and journalists.
By contrast, Portugal removed penalties against the personal use of all drugs in 2001. Since then, HIV infection rates have fallen dramatically, as has underage use. The number of people seeking treatment increased, and not the general consumption of narcotics. Trafficking is still a crime.
Meanwhile, the United States, where the war on drugs began in the 1970s, has the highest rate of marijuana and cocaine use in the world.
“I hope that the Vienna Declaration will inspire many more political leaders to put aside the war on drugs discourse and adopt evidence-based policies that can significantly improve health and safety,” said the conference president and of the International AIDS Society, Julio Montaner.
By Stephen Leahy
UyPress – Uruguayan News Agency