February 3, 2009
Negotiations over the UN's new anti-drug strategy for the next 10 years have hit a snag in Vienna, as US and EU delegations differ sharply over support for harm-reduction measures such as needle-exchange programs (NEPs).
The European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries, Australia, and New Zealand want the UN to commit to fighting HIV and addiction through NEPs and substitution therapy. The US delegation, backed by Russia and Japan, is hewing to the "war on drugs" policy maintained throughout the Bush years. In 1998, the UN declaration was "a drug-free world -- we can do it."
President Barack Obama has already reversed a ban on federal funding for NEPs and is reported to endorse a more liberal approach to the issue. However, there is no indication of any breakthrough between the EU and US delegations. With no consensus reached, negotiations resume Wednesday in hopes of completing a declaration in time for a signing ceremony at a drugs summit in mid-March.
"Negotiations are currently complex but we are hopeful that a satisfactory conclusion can be achieved," said a British Home Office spokesperson.
"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, the UK's former deputy drugs czar and chairperson of the International Drug Policy Consortium. "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 years."
"The race is now on to change the instructions from US officials before ink dries on the previous administration's line," said Danny Kushlick of the UK drug reform group Transform.