IDPC Side Event – The Global Commission on Drug Policy: Recommendations on the global drug control framework

During this lunchtime side event organised by IDPC, Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, and Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, Global Fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria, spoke out about drug policy reform.

The objective of the event was to present the recommendation of the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, ‘War on Drugs’.

Ruth Dreifuss explained that the current drug control system was simply not successful in reducing the scale of the global drug market, which had actually increased over the past 10 years. In addition, a number of negative consequences appeared, including an increase in the power and reach of organised crime, an explosion of the HIV epidemic among poeple who use drugs, social distruption with the stigmatisation and marginalisation of millions of people who use drugs, and a number of human rights violations. The costs of repression (i.e. number of people incarcerated), have no correlation with success in eradicating the drug market.

This is why the Global Commission calls for a large spectrum of drug dependence treatment and harm reduction services, as well as for the experimentation of new ways of regulation for drug markets. The key message from the report is that we must break the taboo on drug policy reform.

Michel Kazatchkine went into more details on the health consequences of the current drug control regime. Coming back from Ruth’s point on breaking the taboo, he called for a refocus of drug policies on harm reduction, aiming at reducing the health, social, economic and human rights harms associated with drug markets and drug control. Harm reduction is therefore not optional, but essential, to effective drug policies. Harm reduction is also based on compelling evidence that such measures can effectively reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs.

Drug policies should be based on four pillars: demand reduction, supply reduction, drug dependence treatment and harm reduction. If any of those four pillars is missing, drug policy is bound to collapse. In addition, harm reduction is now supported by 90 countries from around the world and by UNAIDS, WHO, the UN General Assembly, etc. It is therefore highly problematic that the CND is not supporting it.

The war on drugs is also a war on users, a large number of users is incarcerated for long periods of time, the death penalty is still in use in many countries worldwide, and dependent users do not have sufficient access to appropriate treatment. Drug dependence should be recognised as a health issue, not a crime. Of course, it is also necessary to remember that only 10% of people who use drugs are dependent on drugs worldwide.

We need better leadership on this issue, both at the national and international level in order to save lives. If we want to end ir revert the HIV epidemic by 2015, we need a new drug strategy and the CND needs to open up to the debate.

In order to bring actual change in policy making, both speakers called for governments to experiment on drug policy. The example of Switzerland was brought forward – 15 to 20 years were needed to bring about change in the country. The government started to experiment with a number of health-focused strategies and it took many years to collect evidence that these strategies actually worked. The government managed to reconnect with completely marginalised populations and to reduce drug-related crime. The collection of information was necessary to show the public that these measures did work and had to be promoted.

The Global Commission is now looking at developing its activities at the regional level in order to focus on issues particularly relevant to each region of the world. Latin America will be more focused on violence, while those in Asia, for example, will be looking into disproportionate punishment and the use of the death penalty or compulsory drug treatment.

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