Side Event: Drug Policy in Latin America: Challenges for People Who Use Drugs

Organized by the Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network with the support of the Centro de Convivência É de Lei, Harm Reduction International, the Intercambios Civil Association, the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Hello everyone, this is the side event ‘Drug Policy in Latin America: Challenges for People Who Use Drugs’. My name is Francisco, I will be the moderator and I am part of HEDUC, the Brazilian Network for Harm Reduction and Human Rights, who is the one who proposed this side vent, also has the support of the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, Centro de Convivência É de Lei, Harm Reduction International, the Intercambios Civil Association, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Washington Office on Latin America, Latin America Network of People Who Use Drugs, the European Network of People Who Use Drugs, and the Global Drug Policy Observatory. So first we would like to thank our partners who made this side event possible, we hope to have quite a good discussions about how the situation of Latin America is at this point different approaches on how we’re dealing with this and we’re going to have a Global Drug Policy Index that was released in 2021, and we’re going to start with Adriá Cots from IDPC, and then we’re going to go to Angélica Comis from REDUC/ É DE LEI and speak about the Brazilian situation, and then we’re going to have Ernesto Cortes from LANPUD, and Pablo Cymerman from Intercambios Argentina who will speak more broadly about issues in Latin America, and then we’re going to have Sam Shirley-Beavan from Harm Reduction International (HRI) who is going to talk a little bit about how HRI has some inputs to give us about the Latin America situation, and then Helena Fonseca from Plataforma Brasileira de Politica de Drogas (PBPD) will read an open letter from the Brazilian drug policy reform movement. Then we go to closing remarks. Not to take a long time, I will pass over to Adriá, please go ahead Adriá.

Speaker: Adrià Cots Fernández – Research and Advocacy Officer, IDPC:

Thanks everyone and thank you to REDUC, and all the co-sponsors for inviting me to speak at this event. I am a Research and Advocacy officer at IDPC, we are a network of over 100 NGOs to promote drug policies that are about social justice and human rights, IDPC was a member of the harm reduction consortium and we were all the orgs that put together the GDPI, which is this amazing new tool to be able to compare countries drug policies around the world, which I will briefly explain. I want to highlight that i am presenting the first ever GDPI and that is a proof of concept, we are really proud of it and think it’s really useful but we hope that we will learn from this experience and make an even more robust version of it next time and even more relevant to the realities of everyone including advocates.

For decades, tracking how well or badly governments are doing in drug policies has been a really elusive endeavour, in no small part this is because data collection efforts by the government and UN have been driven by the outdated and harmful goal of achieving a drug free society. The success of drug policies has not been measured by health, human rights, or development outcomes but instead has tended to prioritise the number of people arrested or in prison for drug offences or the amount of drugs seized. Most Governments tend to employ a repressive approach to drug control based on this skewed data, which in turn means they cannot be held accountable for the damage their drug policies have had on so many people. But we believe that data can change the status quo.

So what is the GDPI, it is the first ever index that documents, measures and compares national level drug policies providing each country with a score and ranking that shows how much their drug policies, and the implementation of them in reality align with the UN principles on rights, health and development. the GDPI provide each country with a score from 0 to 100, where 100 would be the perfect score, singling the full alignment of a selected number of drug policies with the UN system Common Position on Drugs which as you know is the core document in which all UN agencies agreed on what drug policies should seek to implement. The Index is comprised of 75 indicators that run across 5 dimensions, the absence of extreme sentencing and responses, such as the death penalty or extrajudicial killings, the proportionality of criminal justice responses, the funding, availability and coverage of harm reduction, the availability of control medicines for pain relief and development.

GDPI is a project of the harm reduction consortium, a global partnership of civil society, community networks and academia aiming to challenge the war on drugs. The process to develop the GDPI went on for almost 2 years and it included many steps. First initial consultations with community and community activists to define the structure and content of the index, to try to understand what we wanted in the Index. Then we created a scientific advisory group with experts on drug policies but also on data analysis to support the data team, we went through data collection with desk based analysis and a civil society survey sent to experts in each country covered by the Index, received 371 responses. This gave us something unique, to be able to track the progress of drug policies on the ground, allowed us to have a co-creation with civil society around the world on what we wanted to measure and how. Lastly, the index development team processed the data and ran an international survey with drug policy analysts to create indicator weights and to achieve a country score.

The first iteration of the GDPI because of resource limitations is with 30 countries from regions all over the world, including 5 countries from Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. We hope this number will increase in future iterations of the index but that depends on how much money we get. For the 30 countries we selected this year, the decision was made under 3 criteria: how important and relevant drug policy is to that country, how much data we have about drug policy in that country and how strong is the presence of NGOs that can use the Index for advocacy without fear of reprisals. We wanted the Index to be useful for the advocates.

The key takeaways we found were 7 in the report, but for this interest of time I will mention 5, these are just my selection. The first one is that drug policies based on punishment lead to overall low scores, with the highest ranking country being Norway has only received 74 out of 100 and the median score is 48 out of 100, so that really means that the current drug policies are harming health, human rights and development. the second is that global inequality extends to drug policies, the Index reveals the deep divide in states approaches to drugs, the average score of the top 5 countries is almost double the median score of the index, and 3 times the average score of the lowest ranking 5 countries, the top 5 countries are global north and bottom 5 countries and this can be explained to a good degree by colonialism, however the highest score achieved by some of the global south countries and certain policies, for instance Jamaica ranks the first country in the dimension that concerns the proportionality of criminal justice responses, shows that this trend can be successfully reversed. Another key takeaway is that the standards and expectations vary from country to country, so a question that we get asked frequently and that you might have if you look at the report is why does a country like Canada get the lowest score than a country like Afghanistan on certain indicators, and that is because the actual data has been sourced by local NGOs and there are different standards and expectations around the world on what is a fair drug policy. A fourth take away is that drug policy disproportionately impacts on marginalised groups, people from low income and in poverty were reported to be disproportionately targeted across all the indicators in the index, and when it comes to Latin America we recorded a disproportionate impact of drug control on women and gender non-conforming people. Last take away is there is a wide gap between state policies on paper and how they are being implemented on the ground. And that’s particularly the case in the areas of health and harm reduction, but in Latin America it is the case for decriminalization policies, as many countries have described personal use of drugs but in reality we still see how policing targets and harms them.

Quickly mentioning that in general among the 5 Latin America countries, they score quite poorly, with Costa Rica being an outlier, coming 9th in the Index, Argentina is number 19th, Colombia is number 25th, Mexico is 26th and Brazil is the last one at 30th. The median position of Latin America countries is 21st out of 30. You can see that median overall scores for the 4 dimensions is 48 for the 30 countries, but you can see that the median score for Latin America countries is substantially lower at 40. The only dimension in which Latin America countries equal the median score of controlled medicines as well as criminal justice proportionality. In both cases with under 50 points. The use of extreme sentencing, mostly in terms of extrajudicial violence and lack of access to harm reduction really brings the whole continent down. There have also been particularly low scores in Latin America in terms of inequity of drug responses as well as relevant authorities in these countries really targeting marginalised groups.

So, just to conclude with some questions for the future, as I mentioned this is just the first iteration of the GDPI, the question is for the next iteration. How can we make the GDPI more relevant for advocates and Latin America county advocates? We need new indicators on harm reduction indicators as most concern injecting use, and opioids and of course in Latin America the behaviours of substance use and the drugs used can be different for that. The GDPI has a big blind spot with no indicator on the legal regulation of cannabis. Should we include indicators on indigenous people’s rights, and lastly what countries in Latin America should we incorporate into the next edition of the GDPI. Thank you very much for your time. Feel free to write to me at this email address: acotsfernandez@idpc.net.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Thank you Adria for giving us very important information about the GDPI and of course in Brazil the fact that we are in last place is significant. Now I call on Angélica Comis from REDUC/ É DE LEI and the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform and will be speaking about the Brazilian situation.

Speaker: Angélica Comis – REDUC/ É DE LEI:

First, we would like to thank you for the opportunity given by the 65th Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs to speak on behalf of dozens of civil society organisations, professionals and activists who practice the principles of supporting people who use drugs and reducing the harms related to drug use, with a focus on health care and human rights of this often marginalised population.

We also want to congratulate the people who work in the organisations that contributed to the first edition of the Global Drug Policy Index, which included data from 30 nations on six continents, including Brazil. We emphasise here that Brazil’s result in the Global Drug Policy Index, sadly ranking in last place, does not surprise us. We, organisations, professionals, activists and/or people who use drugs, suffer daily because of the decision by the Brazilian State to consider drug use as an enemy to be fought in the so called War on Drugs, in detriment of a health and human rights approach.

The 75 indicators that permeate the study, from criminal justice to health care and harm reduction, attest that Brazil still has a long way to go in the path of respecting and supporting people who use drugs, some of whom may be struggling with problematic use. The current situation of the lack of comprehensive public policies towards licit and illicit drug use in Brazil is so profound that it is difficult to enumerate ways out of the tragedy that has taken over people’s daily lives, especially on the outskirts of large and medium-sized Brazilian cities, who suffer from the complete absence of the state, with the only exception of the presence of violent incursions by public security forces and the action of criminal factions, which are often in cahoots with corrupt agents of the State.

Regarding the repressive state practice adopted by Brazil, the total number of people deprived of liberty in custody by the Brazilian State was 820,689 people, according to last year’s data compiled by the National Penitentiary Department, a body of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice. We have the third largest prison population in the world, only behind the US and China. The proportion of prisoners reaches the alarming mark of 384 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants.

Repression is mainly directed at inner cities and poor communities, predominantly made up of black and brown people. These are the Brazilians who are usually imprisoned as a result of the social vulnerabilities they have inherited from historical widespread slavery in Brazil, and nowadays structural racism.

Specifically, regarding the impact of the War on Drugs in relation to the total number of people deprived of their liberty, 218,000 people, or almost 27% of those incarcerated, were sent to prison for drug-related crimes. This is how the Brazilian State has responded to the tragedy of lack of a public policy based on support and human rights, not to mention the lack of access to public policies, adequate educational and professional training opportunities that empower people to seek their autonomy and freedom.

Another troubling fact was the censorship of a national research done by Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – Fiocruz, an internationally renowned governmental research body, in which field interviewers surveyed over 16,000 Brazilians in 351 cities across the five Brazilian regions. The current federal government decided to disregard the data from the survey carried out by Fiocruz.

At the same time, this government decided to invest in abstinence only religious rehabilitation centres that have mostly no trained staff, to the detriment of psychosocial care centres focused on supporting people with problematic drug use through an approach based on human rights, healthcare and harm reduction within their community, understanding that not all people who use drugs are able or want to stay abstinent. On top of that, these institutions, that are based on abstinence only – and sometimes human rights violating confinement – have recently received very substantial financial resources without any bidding process, at the expense of scarce resources being allocated for public services.

In recent years, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has allocated the smallest budget in history to support and care for people who use psychoactive substances, attempting to abort harm reduction practices – and instead, investing in measures that repress and stigmatise people who use drugs.

In Brazil the people who use drugs have difficulty accessing many public services, housing policy and also potable water. Social inequality is a huge problem and affects black people and poor people.

The Brazilian drug policy has another problem in this federal government, they didn’t include who use drugs on the decisions because the government excluded the people who use drugs and NGOs of the drug policy council

Faced with the setback in supporting harm reduction and health care practices, the resurgence of the War-on-Drugs mind-set became evident, even more so because of a genocidal government, which also aberrantly denied the Covid-19 pandemic, contributed to the return of millions to extreme poverty and fought against the fundamental rights of the Brazilian people, especially the most vulnerable ones, affected by the dismantlement of public policies.

An urgent policy shift is needed to end this outdated and ineffective approach that causes more harm than benefit to people who use drugs and to society as whole. Brazilian and international civil society strongly demands humane and comprehensive policies that give support – and not punishment – to marginalised and stigmatised people who use drugs.

Thank you for your attention. People from Brazil and all over the world. Not war, peace to all.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Thank you so much Angelica, some insights from Brazil and in this electoral year hopefully we will have a turn for the better. Now we will have Pablo from Intercambios before Ernesto from LANPUD, thank you Pablo, go ahead.

Speaker: Pablo Cymerman – Intercambios Argentina:

Thank you to all those who organised this event. I will present some context of the Latin America region. For decades, Latin America has suffered particularly the impacts of the war on drugs which caused death and the mass incarceration of young people, the vast majority of whom I lived in urban peripheries, with a clear social class cutting and in Brazil and other countries, also race and ethnicity bias. Historically, Latin American drug policies have been dictated and imposed by the US and focused on prohibition, militarization and the obstruction of transit flows. Criminalization of producers, distributors and consumers, crop eradication and high rates of law enforcement have been the norm with assistance provided by the US gov.

In the early years of the 21st Century, as several progressive governments in Latin America broke through, some countries in the region began to take control at the national and regional levels, experimenting with new ways of addressing the issue and using multilateral agencies as a way to bring about change. For the first time, sitting presidents questioned the international drug control paradigm and called for alternative approaches to be debated. This action had a repercussion at the international level pressing the debate within the Organisation of American States and the UN.

The circumstances were hardened in recent years with several countries in the region witnessing a right wing process as a result of the cycle of a political counter- offensive by national economic elites and the parties that represent them against promising governments in order to restore a conservative political order and implement structural adjustment measures. Attempts to reform drug policies have been opposed by powerful conservative political forces and some religious sectors. Public opinion continues to support heavy-handed measures as a result of the perception and fear that looser drug policies will lead to an increase in drug use and violence. These fears are fuelled by sensationalist journalists or biased media coverage as well as by the real problems of citizen insecurity and violence in the most segregated communities.

At the same time and contradictorily the use of cannabis, especially for therapeutic purposes, is becoming increasingly normalised in the region. In addition to the Uruguayan experience of market regulation, several countries have passed legislation allowing access to medical cannabis, while the social movement is gaining strength and calling for an end to the prohibition of this substance. However, while international agencies have been advocating for changes in drug policies, the worst strategy has been gaining strength among conservative groups who are coming to power and enforcing the War on Drugs and against drug users with punishment, control and elimination of groups considered deviant from social norms.

This has further increased the serious local circumstances of the countries particularly in the Southern Hemisphere in Latin America with an increase in the suffering for the poorest population, the characteristics in our region. While drug policies in some countries have become more punitive, others are discussing cannabis and cocaine regulation, nevertheless Latin America countries drug policies are still focused on the aim of eliminating any type of use and any illegal psychoactive substance. The war against drugs in Latin America has not produced drug trafficking but has led to more violence and human rights violations.

Regarding harm reduction, funding shortage is crucial, with reductions in funding from international donors such as the Global Fund, the funding landscape in Latin America is becoming increasingly difficult. Due to the socio-economic crisis in the region caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the regression towards more punitive policies. Government funding has decreased and many programmes are only funded by private contributions. Domestic funding consistently falls short of what international donors have previously provided, leaving services without a sustainable source of finance and unable to provide continuous services to vulnerable populations.

Additionally, the transition to domestic funding applies primarily to services for people who inject drugs and there remains few funding opportunities for the majority of people who use drugs in the region. Where the Global Fund continues to fund harm reduction, no country has community representation in their country coordination mechanisms. In the Caribbean the implementation of harm reduction is limited by the lack of funding as well as the absence of political will. No civil society organisation providing harm reduction interventions receives any state support for those services. Withdrawal of the Global Fund from many low and middle income countries in the region has drastically affected the financial landscape for harm reduction. There is a need for a declaration of political support for Latin America harm reduction programmes to be accompanied by financial support.

Reconfiguration of political alliances between different countries in the region due to changes in the political-ideological orientation of the government’s influence on drug policies, giving rise to an effective resistance against obscurantism and social injustices against traditionally oppressed populations. Thank you.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Next we have Ernesto, talking about LANPUD’s work.

Speaker: Ernesto Cortes – Latin America Network of People Who Use Drugs:

Good morning, evening or night. I’m in Costa Rica and its 6:45am. I’m going to talk about what LANPUD is, the Latin America Network of People Who Use Drugs and what we do and how this network has become what it is and the key moment we’re in. I will drop in some of what Pablo mentioned as they are important to the lives of PWUD in the drug policy reform movement and the HIV response and that is where most of the funding for drug user networks or harm reduction comes from.

So LANPUD was founded in 2009 in Argentina, the first assembly was in San Paolo Rio de Genero in 2012, in fact many of our Brazilians here are part of LANPUD, the biggest membership we have is in Brazil. The second assembly that we had was in Colombia and it came out of it a Declaration that was looking forward to the UNGASS of 2016 and in fact LANPUD is the only peer run organisation and peer-led network in the region, we promote unity, equality, friendship, mutual respect and sharing info. Right now LANDPUD is in 19 countries, so if you are in any Latin America countries except Venezuela and Cuba we have a rep that we can put you in contact with to be part of LANPUD. We are a network of PWUD. We are also part of orgs and our own orgs in our countries.

LANPUD has been active for more than 10 years but drug users have never had much participation in the national or regional drug policy, not even the HIV response. In fact, there are few local drug users orgs in the region, mainly in brazil and Argentina, but only a few countries in Latin America have funding for harm reduction interventions. Pablo explained a bit about this issue, so I’m going to try get a bit deeper. In Latin America we have so much less drug user movement and so much less harm reduction and less support.

First of all, we have to acknowledge is one of the most unequal and violent regions in the world, this is something that everyone has talked about here and it is important to understand how the ancient history of drug use and drug use traditions run all across our land, different traditions in the south from the north, but we have definitely had drugs and psychoactive substances as part of our cultures. Another big thing is how drug policy and the war on drugs has affected us, how the war on drugs has fuelled this context of violence and inequality and how many countries still criminalize drug use or possession and bring low level punishments to low level drug traffickers, this is worse if you are young, poor, a woman, a black person or sexually diverse. Harm reduction funding has almost completely been focused on harm reduction for people who inject drugs and opioid use, when this behaviour and practices are not very common in the region. you see groups in Colombia and Mexico but most of the rest of the region do not inject drugs or use opioids, we’re more of a stimulant culture, so there is a lot of cocaine and constantly NPS. But the problem is that because of this harm reduction funding on drug policy reform don’t recognize the problems in the development of harm reduction in the region, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, and doesn’t recognize how these laws and drug policies criminalise us PWUD and creates structural barriers to access health and social services. Pablo mentioned we work on the Technical Assistance report with the Global Fund last year, and showered how we are not even recognized for key populations for the HIV response in the GF programmes and we’re not part of any country coordination mechanisms (CCM) and these things must change and every time we can see more countries interested to be included as part of this response.

This context has limited our participation as drug users in the construction and implementation of international drug policies but it has also made invisible all the human rights violations we suffer every day. For example, I lost count of the amount of times I got stopped and frisked by police in my life just for using drugs, even in a country like Costa Rica where drug use is decriminalised, I still felt I was being criminalised. I could tell you even worse stories of my peers who have been arrested or in prison for using or possessing drugs. But this is not only about how we have suffered violence from the police, we also see human rights violations at schools, young people get expelled because they are found with drugs or using drugs. Or they don’t get hired if they test positive in one of these illegal drug tests. Or women get their children taken just because they use drugs and the government doesn’t offer any options on how to raise your children dealing with this. We can go even worse when we talk about these rehab/treatment centres, for example a number of young people died just a couple of months ago or in Ecuador some years ago when the place was on fire and people were locked in. These are supposed to be places where you get better but instead you die there.

I say all of this because harm reduction in Latin America has a different perspective, a broader perspective, not so focused as much on how we use the drugs or the substance we use but is on the people, more based on community and social movements than healthcare interventions only, based on concepts like care or support and not so much on HIV transmission. Harm reduction in Latin America recognizes that punitive drug policies create more harm and that PWUD have basic human rights that have to be protected and a guarantee. That’s why harm reduction in Latin America is more of a political movement than a health or social intervention. That’s why PWUD have to be in the centre on how we create and develop, execute and evaluate drug policies, because we are the community with the lived experience, we know our contexts and our needs, we are the ones that are supposed to be benefited from these public policies.

We always work in LANPUD with a recognition of this intersectionality and this solidarity with PWUD in the most vulnerable conditions, this is a key moment with more people than ever understanding that these drug policies are a complete failure, we need change and we need reform. I invite you all to check out our website and if you are interested in being involved, and if you want to get in touch with someone from LANPUD in your country then feel free to ask. Thank you very much and have a good day.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Thank you Ernesto, now Sam Shirley-Beavan from Harm Reduction International will give us some input about how they see this Latin America issue.

Speaker: Sam Shirley-Beavan – Harm Reduction International (HRI):

Thanks to Francisco and to all the organisers and the hosts and speakers and everyone attending, it has been really interesting to hear everyone so far. So I’m kind of here in two capacities, firstly as a researcher on state capacities around the world and secondly as a researcher with a particular interest in harm reduction for non-injecting drug use, and for stimulants. So I am going to look at Latin America in a Global context, and what the Global harm reduction movement can learn from considering LA. In doing so I will probably echo some of what we’ve already been hearing.

So our major report monitoring harm reduction worldwide is the Global State of Harm Reduction, and for that report the key indicators include the implementation of needle and syringe programmes and opioid agonist therapy. But clearly this is an inadequate way to look at harm reduction in the region and elsewhere and is something we are trying to amend in the next report. It is also a reflection of the wider problem with the way in which harm reduction is too often perceived by the international community and policy makers. So despite words to the contrary, alot of discussion and implementation remains focused on a very limited understanding of HR, an understanding that is based on injecting drug use, and particularly opioid use and on what you might call bio-behavioural interventions that are focused on the individual mostly to reduce the transmission of blood borne diseases. So this is not to say that those programmes are not vital, and lifesaving, but they’re clearly not enough to reduce drug related harm in a context where the majority of people who need harm reduction services for stimulant use.

So we need to look at the basics of harm reduction, what is harm reduction, it’s the reduction of health harms related to drug use for sure but it’s also harms related to drug policies and laws so we need to focus on the direct health consequences of drug use but also on human rights violations, state and criminal violence, criminalization, marginalisation, incarceration, stigmatisation. And also not on the harms as they are faced by individuals but also as they are faced by communities. So this idea of harm reduction needs to be more than just a set of interventions, but more of an orientation and an ethic, one that doesn’t reduce people to their drug use, but considers them in their intersectional totality, as individuals who interact with and contribute to a social context. that means paying extra attention to race, gender identity, and sexual orientation and migration and housing, socio-economy status. So what does that mean in practice, so firstly it means we have to work towards what we at harm reduction international refer to as integrated and person centred harm reduction, with meaningful community leadership and involvement. That means services that provide people with the other traditional harm reduction services they need but also the legal and social services as well as empowerment and community building and support. So those are services that take the full range of human rights that PWUD have seriously. That’s the second and maybe the most important is that none of this is only relevant just for Latin America even if the regional issues bring this into sharper focus, whether people are using smokable cocaine, injecting opioids or any other services, they should have access to treatment as holistic people and genuinely address the harms they experience. There are people doing that around the world but they are too often chronically underfunded and not supported, and they’re doing so in unhelpful and even hostile policy and political environments like we’ve been hearing.

So I will finish with just a couple of thoughts. Firstly, we need to bring funders and policy makers with us on this journey. To put it really crudely, we need to make it clear that harm reduction is not just about HIV although that’s also important. Secondly, we need to recognize that there are many groups and movements and communities out there who are doing harm reduction and advocacy relevant to harm reduction without even realising it or being integrated into the wider movement, they might be working with people who are homeless, or sex workers or more broadly with the human rights of all. We need to build allied relationships and partnerships with all of them to strengthen all of us. Thank you everybody.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Thank you very much Sam. Now we have Helena Fonseca from the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, she is a psychiatrist and secretary of this platform and she will be reading an open letter by the Brazilian drug policy movement, and this is a letter that was drafted until late last night.

Speaker: Helena Fonseca – Plataforma Brasileira de Politica de Drogas (PBPD):

Hello, it’s very nice to be part of this event. I’m Helena Rodrigues and I’m here representing the PBPD and I will read an open letter produced by us.

The War on Drugs strongly affects the poorest countries, thus the social and economic impact of this policy in Latin America reflects a surprising number of over-incarceration and vulnerability of PWUD. Gender, race, and class disparities deepen the harmful effect of this War. Which puts at risk democracy itself. In Brazil, a survey carried out by the centre for studies on security and citizenship showed that in 2017 investment in the war on drugs exceeded 5 billion Reals in the states of San Paulo and Rio de Janeiro alone. This is a completely unreasonable investment when compared to public resources designated to healthcare and support for the same pop. The absence of dialogue with far right Governments further aggravates this dismantling of social participation strategies. The current Brazilian government emptied and rigged the National Council for Drug Policy. It gave massive support with large sums to private religious entities and significantly reduced resources destined for the care of problematic drug use for the public health network. In Brazil, some of these orgs are frequently accused of violating the rights and freedoms of people, in addition this Government abolished harm reduction as a strategy of support and healthcare. This scenario may explain why we have the worst drug policy in the world, according to the GDPI. Without participation of people affected by the drug war, in public debate this policy does not represent the real demand of people for care, access to health with dignity, information and harm reduction. We believe that drug policy is more effective when there is participation of users, workers, and all people affected. A trans-disciplinary approach is necessary, which privileges the diversity and complexity inherent to this phenomenon, in order to determine the drug policy we want. Thank you.

Moderator: Francisco Neto – Rede brasileira de redução de danos e direitos humanos (REDUC):

Thank you very much, so this open letter will be sent for everyone that would like to support it. I think we are living in this very complex situation in Latin America as a whole, but particularly in Brazil. I think the war on drugs has in some sense shown its face in a very difficult manner, and of course the harm for drug users and society is a lot bigger than the benefits that we get from this kind of policy. And also we have to say that we need to support and not punish people who use drugs, even if it is or not a problematic drug use. Lastly, I think it’s important we show our solidarity with our colleagues in Ukraine who are suffering from a devastating humanitarian crisis and unacceptable levels of violence, oppression, hostility and human rights abuses and strongly condemn the invasion by the Russian Federation. Want to thank everyone that was able to take part in this side event and feel free to contact us through the official channels of our organisations. And a special thank you to HEDUC for coming up with this event.

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