Experts agree drug decriminalisation is a must — so should we
No more excuses. It’s time policy makers who still support punitive measures be held accountable for the harm they are causing to people.
The evidence is here, science has spoken. Punitive drug prohibition policies have not only failed to combat the drug problem around the world, they have contributed to “lethal violence, disease, discrimination, forced displacement, injustice, and the undermining of people’s right to health”. This is the conclusion of a commission of medical experts, in a report (pdf) published by the journal The Lancet last week.
The report’s documentation of the extent of harm and trauma caused by punitive measures is as damning as it is upsetting. Take this statistic for example: life expectancy has decreased in certain parts of Mexico — by five years for men in one state — following the government’s decision to allow military intervention in civilian areas to fight drug traffickers. Another statistic is that two-thirds of people who inject drugs around the world may be living with the Hepatitis C virus, which can cause liver diseases and certain types of cancer, because governments are either incapable or downright refusing to implement preventive measures.
To tackle the drug problem, the experts are unequivocal: we need global drug decriminalisation. There is no way around it from the perspective of public health or human rights. The experts recommend that minor, non-violent possession, distribution and use of drugs should be decriminalised; policies should gradually aim for legal, regulated drug markets if it is politically impossible to immediately revert punitive measures; access to sterile needles and oral drugs such as methadone and naloxone should also be ensured.
The experts’ findings and recommendations only confirm that when it comes to drugs, sticking with punitive measures is scientifically hollow and solely political. It is therefore high time that policy makers who still support punitive measures be held accountable for the harm they are causing to people who most need the state’s help. Any excuse they try to spin or any debate they try to initiate should now be exposed for what they truly are: lies, deceit.
Anil Gayan, the health minister, falls squarely in the notorious category of policy makers who are not against punitive measures. In July last year, he suspended the distribution of methadone, a drug used to treat opioid addicts,declaring that “the state should not act as a drug supplier”. His decision went against a treatment strategy that had been helping addicts in Mauritius for the past ten years. It also is the complete opposite of what The Lancet report now recommends — that is, to provide methadone to drug users.
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