The Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report this afternoon that shows how the failed “war on drugs” is contributing to the AIDS epidemic amongst intravenous drug users and their sexual partners (you can review the entire report below).
The Commission, which is made up of the who’s who of former presidents and United Nations aide workers, finds that “repressive” law enforcement practices steer drug addicts away from safe treatment facilities and into “hidden environments,” where the risk of contracting HIV is heightened.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which provided the Voice with a copy of the report, 33 million people across the globe currently are living with HIV. Of those 33 million, intravenous drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
The report finds that the international “war on drugs” has done
nothing to reduce the global drug supply of opiates like heroin. In
fact, the use of opiates has increased by 380 percent in recent decades.
Because these drugs are illegal, a black market is created for
junkies to get their fix, which leads to organized crime and violence.
The Commission recommends — among other things — that countries
that under-utilize addiction treatment (like the United States) start
implementing measure that help reduce the risk of HIV, like sterile
syringe distribution, safer injecting facilities, and prescription
“[A] failure to take these steps,” the Commission finds, “is criminal.”
The report shows how countries where addiction is treated as a health
issue are winning the fight against the spread of HIV. In countries
like Australia, Portugal and Switzerland — where steps similar to those
recommended by the Commission have been taken — “HIV infections have been nearly eliminated among people who use drugs,
just as vertical transmission of HIV has been eliminated in countries
where broad access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the
virus is available,” according to the DPA.
Additionally, “a number of specific countries, including the U.S.,
China, Russia and Thailand, have ignored scientific evidence and
resisted the implementation of evidence-based HIV prevention programs –
with devastating consequences. In Russia, for example, approximately one
in one hundred adults is now infected with HIV. In the United States,
Congress recently re-instated a longstanding ban on the use of federal
funds for syringe exchange programs,” the group continues.
The Commission’s recommendations are as follows:
● Push national governments to halt the practice of arresting
and imprisoning people who use drugs but do no harm to others.
● Measure 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.
● Respond to the fact that HIV risk behavior resulting from
repressive drug control policies and under-funding of evidence-based
approaches is the main issue driving the HIV epidemic in many regions of
● Act urgently: The war on drugs has failed, and millions of
new HIV infections and AIDS deaths can be averted if action is taken
How the drug war fuels the HIV pandemic:
● Fear of arrest drives persons who use drugs underground,
away from HIV testing and HIV prevention services and into high-risk
● Restrictions on provision of sterile syringes to drug users result in increased syringe sharing.
● Prohibitions or restrictions on opioid substitution therapy
and other evidence-based treatment result in untreated addiction and
avoidable HIV risk behavior.
● Deficient conditions and lack of HIV prevention measures in prison lead to HIV outbreaks among incarcerated drug users.
● Disruptions of HIV antiretroviral therapy result in elevated
HIV viral load and subsequent HIV transmission and increased
● Limited public funds are wasted on harmful and ineffective
drug law enforcement efforts instead of being invested in proven HIV
See the entire report below.