Nazlee Maghsoudi


– Dr. Gilberto Gerra UNODC

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The Vienna NGO Committee’s 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing was held today in cooperation with the UNODC and the WHO. This event marked the first gathering of NGOs for the 57th CND and High Level Segment. Two panels, as well as other speaker remarks, allowed for discussions on how we can together address drug abuse through a health-based approach as part of the International Drug Control Conventions.

The informative and interactive nature of the event fostered an environment of spirited and honest debate. This type of dialogue was consistently described as of paramount importance by many NGOs in attendance, notably by Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. We hope that these kinds of conversations continue throughout the 57th CND and High Level Segment.

There were two primary questions addressed at the Informal Civil Society Hearing, one to each panel. Both questions, as well as key takeaways from some of the panelists’ responses, are outlined below.

How do the International Drug Control Conventions accommodate a health-based approach?

Paul Rompani, Mentor International – According to the WHO, health is defined as “a state of complete physical and mental well-being.” This broad definition is useful, as it allows us to incorporate the prevention of problematic use of substances beyond those that are illicit, such as tobacco, alcohol, and inhalants. Although some prevention policies are effective, there is widespread use of ineffective and inefficient prevention practices and policies. To combat this, we must rigorously evaluate programs and policies.

Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) – A study conducted in 2008 found that levels of drug use in society are largely independent of the policy environment. It concluded that countries with stringent policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal policies. Hence, punitive policies lead to unintended consequences without reducing the use of drugs. The international drug control system is premised on the health and protection of humankind and there are some provisions in the conventions that allow for this. However, there are some clear limitations in the conventions, as penal penalties are prevalent, and flexible interpretation is not always done to the fullest extent possible by signatory states. If we are serious about health, we need to get serious about harm reduction. We must ensure that we have harm reduction measures for people that use drugs, rather than a singular focus on preventing drug use. Harm reduction is applicable to the drug market as a whole, not just to drug consumption, as we cannot eradicate the market at all costs. Striving to do this is at odds with protecting the safety, and the health, of our communities. Perhaps a fifty-year-old treatment framework is not appropriate for the challenges we are facing today. Government positions are polarized and the difficulty of reaching consensus means an honest debate is needed. We must call on the CND, the UNODC and the INCB to get serious about putting health at the centre of the conventions and the international drug control regime.

Fay Watson, (EURAD) Vice-Chair, EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs – A drug strategy is most effective when comprehensive and consisting of the following seven elements: Prevention, Early Detection and Intervention, Risk and Harm Reduction, Treatment, Rehabilitation, Social Integration, and Recovery. Additionally, we must be cautious of applying evidence from one country to another country, as social and cultural differences have an impact.

Using 2014 Momentum to get 2016 Right: What specific areas of policy or practice should be further explored leading up to UNGASS?

Allan Clear, Harm Reduction Coalition – It is time we take harm reduction seriously. Harm reduction is evidence-based and has been proven to work. The amount of money that the community impacted by drugs receives (i.e. that goes towards harm reduction) must be scaled up. We are not asking for new money. We are asking for reallocation and smarter use of available funds by scaling down ineffective arrests and incarceration.

Eliot Ross Albers, International Network of People who Use Drugs – Two bodies of international law, namely human rights law and drug control law, exist in parallel universes. Drug users are the most vulnerable and the most marginalized people in society, and they are the ones that experience systematic human rights abuses as a result of our drug laws. Repressive drug policies fuel the repression, stigmatization and incarceration of people who use drugs. We need to review drug control laws to acknowledge their divergence from human rights. We need peace for drug war prisoners!

Kevin Sabet, Drug Policy Futures – We need a better integration of public health and criminal systems. It is not a simple solution of legalization, as people enter and re-enter the criminal justice system for crimes beyond simple drug use. However, the crimes are directly or indirectly related to their use. We therefore must find a balance between mass incarceration and legalization.

Thanks for reading! We had a great first day at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria and are looking forward to the next week and a half.

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