Resolution: Harm Reduction Works: Fund it!

A major regional resolution has been signed during the 23rd International Harm Reduction Conference held in Vilnius, Lithuania, 9-12 June, 2013. The resolution calls for reallocation of resources from ineffective prosecution and punishment of drug users to providing effective prevention and treatment.

Drug policies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are among the most repressive in the world:  they criminalize people who use drugs, resulting in:

  • Higher rates of incarceration for petty drug offences and overcrowding the prison system;
  • Reduced capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with more serious offences, and increased spending on ineffective measures;
  • Police harassment, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture;
  • Increased incidence of HIV, MDR-TB, viral hepatitis B and C, disability and premature death.

These policies are costly, ineffective, and do not meet international and European standards of human rights and health – standards that this region has publically committed to but not enforced through its national drug policies or law enforcement practices.

Governments must reallocate resources from prosecuting and punishing drug users to providing them with effective prevention and treatment. These treatments, which fall under the umbrella of harm reduction, include needle and syringe programs, opioid substitution therapy, free HIV, TB and hepatitis C testing and treatment, provision of naloxone for overdose prevention, legal aid and targeted services for women. The community of people who use drugs can increase the effectiveness of these programs, if they are included in the process of design, implementation and evaluation.

Harm reduction services have been endorsed by every major international body dealing with health and human rights, including the UN, WHO and the Council of Europe. The reallocation of resources from punishment to harm reduction services will cost a fraction of what countries now spend on criminalization, and will help transition from donor dependence to domestic funding for evidence-based and rights-affirming harm reduction programs.

Recent action

The resolution has been signed by over 200 conference participants, including Professor Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, President Alexander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, President Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, Tea Tsulukiani, Minister of Justice of Georgia, Jindrich Voboril, National Anti-Drug Coordinator of the Czech Republic, and other prominent people.

The resolution calls for reallocation of resources from ineffective prosecution and punishment of drug users to effective prevention and treatment. In particular, the resolution commits to:

  1. Prioritize drug policy reform and advocate for domestic funding for harm reduction services,
  2. Include people who use drugs as partners in drug policy reform, advocacy and service provision, and
  3. Establish stronger collaboration between people who use drugs, harm reduction and human rights activists, health and economic experts and governments.