United Nations & world leaders condemned for failure on drug policy, health and human rights

329 NGOs call for global leadership to halt global public health emergency and to end egregious human rights violations against people who use drugs.

As the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference comes to a close, hundreds of health professionals, academics, drug policy and human rights experts, frontline workers and people who use drugs released a statement calling on world leaders to urgently address the health and human rights crisis among people who use drugs.

Signatory NGOs shed light on the alarming public health emergency faced by people who use drugs. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of drug-related deaths rose by a worrying 60%. In 2015 alone, this culminated in a total of 450,000 deaths – an estimated 50 deaths every hour. The target to halve the incidence of HIV among people who inject drugs by 2015, set eight years ago, was spectacularly missed by 80%, and HIV prevalence increased by one third among people who inject drugs over the same period. Furthermore, globally, six in ten people who use drugs are living with hepatitis C, while 168,000 people who use drugs were reported to have died of an overdose in 2015 alone.

These health harms are preventable. The evidence, presented at the Conference this week, shows that harm reduction and human rights-centred drug policies can save lives, prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and promote the dignity and empowerment of people who use drugs. But this requires leadership from both governments and the UN.

Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International (HRI), said: ‘The evidence for harm reduction is indisputable. It is nothing short of disgraceful that governments continue to fail to support and invest in health services for some of the most marginalised people’.

The joint NGO statement also expresses serious concerns over the ability of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to adequately lead the UN response on this issue. By its very mandate and construction, the UNODC remains more attuned to the law enforcement response to drugs. As a result, UNODC leadership has consistently failed to unequivocally champion harm reduction, human rights and decriminalisation, and has lost further creditability with repeated silence in face of egregious human rights violations. Today, people who use drugs continue to be victims of incarceration, compulsory detention, denial of access to healthcare, corporal punishment, institutionalised violence, stigma and discriminations, and – in the most extreme cases – extrajudicial killings.

In response to the vacuum of political leadership, NGOs conveying in Porto have called for global leadership to protect the human rights of a ‘population under attack’ and demanded that these unacceptable human rights abuses to come to an end.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), stated: ‘just over ten years left for countries to meet their global commitment to champion health, reduce inequalities, and provide access to justice for all, as enshrined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, there has never been a more urgent need to strengthen political leadership at all levels. Faced with the current crisis, complacency can no longer be tolerated’.

Police statement of support for drug policy reform

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership and the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health held this side event to demonstrate police support for the urgent reform of drug policies. The event can be summarised as follows: There is one sector which knows better than any other how badly a prohibitive and punitive approach to the use of illicit drugs has failed – the Police. Police daily see the harmful impact of prohibition law enforcement on individuals and communities, and recurrent failure of the system to help those suffering. But the Police voice is rarely heard in debates about drug policy, despite their first-hand and expert experience.

Photos credits Steve Rolles (https://twitter.com/SteveTransform)

This was a historic moment: the representatives of the British police and several European countries presented a milestone declaration for the reduction of risks, decriminalisation of drug use and regulation of drugs. Presenting the statement, Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham Constabulary, clearly emphasized that “Prohibition does not work”.

The two organisations call for an immediate end to arbitrary detention, extra-judicial killings, the death penalty, torture and ill-treatment and other human rights abuses committed by some governments in the name of the “war on drugs”.

The essence of the statement is that “eliminating this “war on drugs” approach would mean: less drug-related crime; less violence in the community; drastically reduced criminal profits and funds for other criminal activities; reduced prison populations and less pressure on criminal justice systems; less stigma and discrimination; and improved health outcomes for people who use drugs.

The statement was signed by an international collective of Law Enforcement professionals.

The statement is available following this link>>>>

Civil society disappointed with the Ministerial Declaration

The United Nations (UN) agreed to a new framework for global drug control: a Ministerial Declaration ‘Strengthening our actions at the national, regional and international levels to accelerate the implementation of our joint commitments to address and counter the world drug problem’. The text of the Declaration is available.

The International Drug Policy Consortium expresses disappointment following the UN’s adoption of a 10-year global drug strategy that fails to deal with the realities and the devastating impacts of punitive drug policies.

In the lead up to this Ministerial Segment, IDPC called repeatedly on Member States to formally and honestly evaluate progress made towards the overarching goal, in the 2009 Political Declaration, to significantly reduce or eliminate the illicit drug market, as well as in the implementation of the UNGASS Outcome Document. Unfortunately, a formal and comprehensive review of the past decade of drug policies was not conducted by governments or the UNODC.

In the statement issued, IDPC pointed that governments the world over have utterly failed to make any progress in achieving a drug-free world. Over the past decade, there has been a 31% increase in the number of people who use drugs and an unprecedented rise in the cultivation of opium and coca. Organised crime has also flourished, with the illicit drug trade estimated to now be worth between USD 426 to 652 billion.

In blindly striving for a drug-free world, drug policies have had devastating consequences:

  • Half a million preventable deaths by overdoses and from HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis in 2015 alone
  • A global epidemic of pain which has left 75% of the world’s population without access to pain relief
  • Severe human rights violations, including mass incarceration, 3,940 executions, and tens of thousands of extrajudicial and other unlawful killings.

Unfortunately, the so-called ‘Vienna consensus’ won out and has once again stifled progress in UN drug policy. Even though the document includes a bleak acknowledgement of the scale of the problem, it re-commits the international community to another decade focusing on the elimination of the illicit drug market.

Ann Fordham, IDPC Executive Director, said: “Although some progress has been made in the new Declaration compared to ten years ago, it is disappointing that governments cannot be honest about how repressive drug policies drive devastating harms, more so than the drugs themselves. The consensus-based UN drugs debate has led to the unfortunate recycling of failed and flawed rhetoric that must be called out. Governments would do well to reflect on the evidence before them from the UN system as well as civil society.

To read full IDPC statement follow this link>>>

The DPNSEE statement on Drug checking

Around the World, 31 March is celebrated as the International Drug Checking Day – an initiative conducted by a diverse group of organizations that all play an active part in the delivery of harm reduction services pertaining to substance use. This year’s goal is to raise public awareness of the availability of drug checking services. Supporting this goal, DPNSEE is publishing this statement in order to stress the importance of implementation of drug checking services as an early intervention in different drug use settings.

At the General Assembly held in December 2017, DPNSEE member organisations listed number of benefits and challenges linked to implementation of drug checking services as an integrative harm reduction intervention. This statement outlines the attitudes of the Network following that drug checking represents an essential aspect of public health policy as recommended by the World Health Organization[1] and has been further developed by both EU agencies and various European nations[2].

Even there is little evidence on the effectiveness of drug checking services on drug use behaviour or health outcomes, a history of drug checking services in other countries may help to guide good practice. Based on the results and the evaluation of the projects implemented in Europe, the drug checking service’s integrative parts ideally but not necessarily include the monitoring of drug markets for new/dangerous drugs, as well as high level potency of a certain substances. They also involve data collection on drug-taking patterns. Designing of a service that appeals to the target group offering them a full range of educational information, the recognition of early signs that might lead to problematic relation to substances, counselling and referral to services that focus on effective methods of treatment within the existing drug care system should enhance the better understanding the key population and offer the answer to an emerging crisis[3].

There is a growing interest for implementation of these services in most South East European countries. Legal barriers can be solved with adjustment of the current laws. That will make space for basic harm reduction program implementation within recreational settings, in places and cases where drug checking cannot be provided. Having drug checking services supported by the Government shows that the national states are taking drug use problem seriously. It also creates a path through which effectiveness of mandatory national Early Warning System, that currently lack connection to key population, can be improved. That way it can support creating clear picture about drug use on the ground, wider than only focusing on data collected through police raids, or hospital records of overdose cases or high intoxicated individuals.

The Drug Policy Network strongly supports developments towards better addressing the problem of new psychoactive substances. We invite all civil society organisations, governments and health institutions to overcome the obstacles for implementation of drug checking programs in order to create multispectral systematic response to an emerging crisis, to potentially diminish the harm and save lives.

Download PDF of the statement HERE>>>

Version in Serbia is available HERE>>>

[1]        http://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/FactFile_NPS.pdf

[2]     http://newip.safernightlife.org/pdfs/news/Factsheet on Drug Checking in Europe.pdf

[3]     ibid

UN agencies statement on ending discrimination in health care settings

Discrimination in health care settings is widespread across the world and takes many forms. It violates the most fundamental human rights protected in international treaties and in national laws and constitutions. People we work for and with experience it very often.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had issues a Joint United Nations statement, signed by 12 UN agencies, on ending discrimination in health care settings. Recognizing that discrimination in health care settings is a major barrier to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations entities commit to working together to support Member States in taking coordinated multisectoral action to eliminate discrimination in health care settings.

The Statement is available at http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/ending-discrimination-healthcare-settings_en.pdf.

Among a number of measures, the statement called for the “reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes” by member states, which includes “drug use or possession of drugs for personal use”.

The DPNSEE Office, in cooperation with SUPRAM – The Association of Lawyers for Medical and Health Law of Serbia, analysed the situation in the country and prepared a document which highlights some of the basic international documents and national legislation on discrimination, especially in the area of health care. Those who can understand Serbian can download the document presenting the situation following this link. We are in communication with our member organisations in Serbia, with the idea to make a public event to present the Statement and the document produced and call for full respect of the legislation and fight against discrimination. For this, we plan to partner with The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and UN representatives in the country.

For others, we prepared the set of excerpts from the international documents which is in another document. Please feel free to have a look at the document linked here and if you think you can start a similar campaign like we plan for Serbia, analyse your national legislation which deals with discrimination, access to health and social care, quality of health protection, patients’ safety as well as strategies in these areas. Should you need any support, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Joint Statement from Romanian civil society urging Global Fund to maintain funding

In advance to the upcoming 36th Meeting of the Global Fund Board on the 16th and 17th of November, the representatives of Romanian civil society organizations, including people living with HIV and TB and key populations, published a joint statement to express their deep concern about the potential disconnect between a successful replenishment and the small or non-existent allocations that will be made available for countries like Romania and upper middle income countries with HIV epidemics that are still not controlled. They are afraid that there is a high risk that the allocation for the HIV component for Romania for the next three years could be zero – the same as it was the previous allocation period.

 

The last Global Fund HIV grant for Romania so far came to an end in 2010. Already in 2013, Romania’s HIV disease burden was increased to ‘high’. An alarm was issues and a targeted concept note was developed and submitted, but was not supported by the Global Fund. AT the same time, the key barrier to a sustainable HIV prevention program and HIV/AIDS sector in Romania is the lack of political will to fund the program by the Government. Results are devastating and organisations urge the Global Fund to introduce “a differentiated investment approach in which funding decisions are guided by considerations of need and impact.”

 

You can read the full joint statement following this link

Joint Statement of Romanian Civil Society Organizations in advance to the Thirty Sixth Meeting of the Global Fund Board