Nazlee Maghsoudi

UTOPIA CANNOT BE REACHED – THAT IS, THE ELIMINATION OF ANY DRUG CONSUMPTION. THE FINAL AIM IS ACHIEVING THE WELL-BEING OF INDIVIDUALS.

– Spain Spokesperson

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The following events took place today at the 57th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Review: the Round-Table Discussions regarding Demand Reduction, the High-Level Briefing of the 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing and the 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation, and the Round-Table Discussions regarding Supply Reduction. During the Round-Table Discussions, the General Debate was also taking place, during which member states made their preliminary statements. For a detailed account of the statements made at each of these events, please consult the International Drug Policy Consortium’s CND Blog at http://www.cndblog.org. The following is a reflection on selected key comments made during the 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing and the 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation, and the General Debate.

Many first statements, including scientists, doctors, youth, and states, included the importance of harm reduction and the need to move drug policy outside of the criminal realm.

The 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation highlighted that substance abuse disorder should be treated as a medical and public health issue, rather than a criminal justice or moral issue. States must stop incarceration for minor, non-violent, drug-related offences. In the words of Nora Volkow (Director General, National Institute on Drug Abuse, United States of America) “imprisonment does not equate with treatment.” Michel Kazatchkine (Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, United Nations) added that there is a “significant gap between what science has shown works, and what is in reality being implemented by countries in their policies.” He stressed that harm reduction interventions (particularly needle and syringe programs), in combination with opiate substitution therapy, are compelling strategies that indisputably reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, mortality, drug dependency, crime, and therefore result in improved quality of life. Policies that hinder access to harm reduction must be reformed, as they result in stigma and policy displacement, which in turn undermine support for harm reduction. Harm reduction interventions are cost-effective and consistent with the UN Drug Conventions, but are not used widely enough.

The European Union (EU) agreed with the key points of the UNODC Scientific Consultation, as the EU’s experience and a multitude of robust evidence have indicated that harm reduction is effective and must therefore be used. The EU is a strong supporter of comprehensive drug strategies, and especially of risk and harm reduction.

Norway stated, “we know what works, we have to implement what works, and then evaluate our progress,” again emphasizing the gap between the lessons learned from evidence-based practice and drug policies worldwide.

Mexico’s statement emphasized that drug and supply demand reductions are not enough to solve the global world drug problem and these strategies should not cause outcomes that are more harmful to the social fabric than the problem they are intending to solve. Mexico will take this opportunity to enrich the existing pillars of supply and demand reduction with efforts that aim to prevent and reduce unintended effects. The new dynamics and approaches that have emerged in recent years should be analyzed and not denied, as these unilateral violations indicate that there is no longer consensus about international drug strategies. Only coordinated actions will enable us to respond to global challenges. Mexico therefore believes that states need to collectively generate strategies using a long-term perspective with the health and safety of society at the core in order to combat the world drug problem that transcends international borders. This change does not reject law enforcement, but recognizes the vulnerabilities that can lead to more harm than good.

Nevertheless, there were some clear divergences in perspectives.

Queen Silvia of Sweden advocated for zero tolerance of drugs and stated that the UN Drug Conventions are the best path to accomplish this as an international community.

The President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, claimed that the UN Drug Conventions have not waged a war on anyone. He advocated for a health-oriented approach and the use of scientific evidence in constructing drug strategies. However, in the view of CSSDP, his statement did not align with common understandings of public health and evidence-based approaches to drug policy, such as universal access to harm reduction. Raymond Yans argued that today’s situation resembles a time when the U.S. was panicked about drugs and resultantly created the UN Drug Conventions. He stated, “Is it not ironic that in a parallel time we are considering legalizing illicit substances for recreational use just because times have changed? Is it not common sense to control the supply of illicit substances and limit their production?”

CSSDP, as well as numerous other NGOs, disagree with what is implied by the question posed by Raymond Yans. Recognizing that times have changed means acknowledging that we are now more well-informed about the successes and the failures of our past drug policy approaches. While in the past drug policy was driven by ideology, with time we have learned that a new strategy may be needed.

As observers at today’s events, we felt at many times that contrasting opinions were masked by the use of similar language. Those that seemed to be advocating for reform, and those that were more content to stay with the status quo, used words such as “public health,” “evidence-based,” “balanced approach,” and “reducing harms.” It seemed that the intended meanings of words differed depending on the individual using them, thereby creating an illusion of consensus.

There were, however, some beautiful words heard at today’s events.

“We have to fight inequality and injustice before we fight [for] prevention.”

– Dr. Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

“Drug users are in need of love and recovery, not social exclusion and punishment.”

– Dr. Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

“In today’s world, there is no peace without development, and there is no development with respect for human rights. Health and human rights must be at the centre of the international drug control strategy.”

– Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations

“Drugs are a reality of our society, a world without drugs is not obtainable.”

– France Spokesperson

“The main objective should be oriented at not criminalizing poverty.”

– Argentina Spokesperson

“In December 2013 we created a regulated cannabis market. President José Mujica said that he was convinced that we were in an uneven war, which was costing Uruguay a lot of money to tackle drug trafficking. So what is worse, drugs or drug trafficking?”

– Uruguay Spokesperson

“Since 1961, the logic has been imposed on us to criminally control cannabis. We are moving away from the spirit of the conventions with a spiral of endless cycles of violence. All psychoactive substances should be regulated according to how toxic they are.”

– Uruguay Spokesperson

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