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A Global Commission Paints the War on Drugs as a War Against Logic

By Lucile Scott

June 26, 2012

A Global Commission Paints the War on Drugs as a War Against Logic

Today the Global Commission on Drug Policy is releasing a report that brands the War on Drugs as misguided and dangerous, outlining how it has failed to reduce the global drug supply, while causing an increase in global HIV rates. "The war on drugs has failed, and millions of new HIV infections and AIDS deaths can be averted if action is taken now," reads the report, authored by the Commission, which includes Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico, and other former heads of state from Latin America and Europe countries that have been heavily impacted by the War on Drugs and drug use, along with international luminaries like Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. "Throughout the world, research has consistently shown that repressive drug law enforcement practices force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risk becomes markedly elevated," it continues.

The Commission released the report today in advance of July's International AIDS Conference, the first to be held in the U.S. in 22 years. The report goes on to target the failure of U.S. drug policy, the major engine and funder of the draconian approach. "The U.S., China, Russia and Thailand, have ignored scientific evidence and resisted the implementation of evidence-based HIV prevention programs – with devastating consequences," it states, adding that, "In the United States, Congress recently re-instated a longstanding ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs." It then contrasts the high rate of new HIV infection rates in injection drug users in these four countries with those in Australia and European countries such as Portugal and Switzerland, where addiction is treated as a health issue and "newly diagnosed HIV infections have been nearly eliminated among people who use drugs."

As for the war’s failure to achieve its stated goals, data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that since Ronald Regan began upping funding for war on drugs, which has increased by 600% since 1980, the global supply of illicit opiates has increased by 380%, while the cost of heroin has plummeted 80%. And this spectacular failure comes with a high price for everyone. In a time of across the board budget slashing of government programs, the U.S. federal government spent $15 billion on the War on Drugs in 2010, and state and local governments another $25 billion.

The report also impugns the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders in the United States, "where as many as 25% of Americans infected with HIV may pass through correctional facilities annually, and where disproportionate incarceration rates are among the key reasons for markedly higher HIV rates among African Americans." While investing vast resources in locking up millions for non-violent crimes instead of focusing on harm reduction, the war has caused the violent killings of more than 50,000 people since 2006, when the Mexican military escalated its armed attack against drug cartel forces. Both approaches have had no effect on drug supply.

The Commission offers multiple sound policy recommendations, including measuring "drug policy success by indicators that have real meaning in communities, such as reduced rates of transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases, fewer overdose deaths, reduced drug market violence, fewer individuals incarcerated and lowered rates of problematic substance use." Seems the better fight.

This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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