War on Drugs or Fighting a Shadow: an Arduous Road to Humane Drug Policies

26 June 2017

On 26 June we observe the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, it is the day when many governments report on their contributions to the global "war on drugs". The day of 26 June is also proclaimed the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - an ironic coincidence, considering that some governments still use such drug control methods as public executions or beatings of offenders, all in the name of this war. They consider it a "correctional" measure and a way to stabilize the drug situation as a whole. However, we at EHRN believe that an effecive drug control policy is only possible through support and protection of the rights of people who use drugs.  

According to the World Drug Report 2017 made by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the markets for opioids and cocaine continue growing: in 2015 the global opium production went up by 30 %. The number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) on the black market has doubled in the last five years.  Can this kind of statistics prove the inefficacy of the global drug control measures? And how many more victims do we need to make governments move to well-thought actions and channel their expenses to those in need of assistance and support.

The situation in the Central, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) remains complicated. Nevertheless, real committment to alternative methods of drug control has been demonstrated in the region. It is most revealing that one of the days of the First Regional Harm Reduction Conference for the CEECA countries, "Harm Reduction in the New Environment"  held in April 2017, was fully dedicated to discussing strategies and initiatives to be adopted at the international, regional and national levels to make the drug control policies more effective and serving its main purpose, namely, decrease human suffering. The conference organizer, EHRN, gave 400 participants from 45 countries an opportunity to get aquainted with the key drug control concepts such as decriminalization, alternatives to criminal penalties, human rights monitoring, evaluation of drug control policies and best practice examples from the countries in the region and elsewhere in the world. It would be too early to say that there have been serious moves towards decriminalization but more and more national drug control agencies display better understanding of the fact that a more differentiated approach is needed to drug-related offence and that the role of police can and must change towards harm reduction rather than punishment.

The role of the state in implementing effective approaches to drug control can not be argued. This is clearly seen from the road taken by Portugal, where the storage of narcotics for private consumption has been decriminalized and the system for social support and re-integration has been put in place. But one should bear in mind that in the cities and countries with effective responses to drug-related problems the civil society does hold the tools to protect human rights and act on discrimination against people who use drugs, as well as the methods to push for humane and effective drug policies. Just yesterday our Estonian and Lithuanian colleagues returned from their educational visit to the LEAD program run in Seattle, USA. This program aims to reduce the number of recurring offences by re-directing those guilty of petty "drug-related" crimes to case-management programs rather than imprisoning them. In less than three years there has been a convincing decrease in the number of criminal offence cases and the expenses involved.

“On this day EHRN appeals to the governments and urges them to stop their inhumane war on drugs and start on the road of effective drug control policies. We wholeheartedly support the search and implementation of alternative, more humane sanctions aimed first and foremost at protecting the rights and freedoms of all and every human being. Our Network has already gathered enough experience and has enough possibilities to help any national and local official or politician who wants to implement new alternatives or at least get aquainted with such.  We have developed policy briefs and are currently working on the evaluation tools to look at the impact of drug policies on the changes in Central and Eastern Europe (a joint project with the European Commission), we have lots of practical information from our partners in Western Europe and North America at our disposal. EHRN is ready to provide information and technical assistance on alternatives to repressive drug control methods, we have been supporting self-organisation of people who use drugs in their advocacy efforts. Our vision of further development of drug control in the regions is based on one simple principle: people need support, not punishment," – says Anna Dovbakh, acting Executive Director of EHRN.

ЕССВ за гуманную и эффективную наркополитику