‘War on drugs’ has harmed public health and human rights finds new Lancet report

Graffiti in Tartu, Estonia commenting on the War on Drugs

Fifty years of drug policies aimed at restricting and criminalizing drug use and minor possession have had serious detrimental effects on the health, wellbeing and human rights of drug users and the wider public, according to a major new report by The Lancet and Johns Hopkins University in the US.

The authors of the Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy call for non-violent minor drug offenses including use, possession, and petty sale, to be decriminalized. The report provides compelling evidence from countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic that have decriminalized non-violent minor drug offenses, and seen significant public health benefits, cost savings, and lower incarceration with no significant increase in problematic drug use.

The authors call for an evidence-based approach to drug policy. With the legalization of cannabis in Uruguay and four US states (Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska), the Commission urges governments considering regulated markets like these to find appropriate ways of evaluating their impact so that lessons can be learned.

 

Specifically, the Commission concludes that:

  • A number of countries, mostly in Europe, have decriminalized minor drug offenses with good results, including more ability to reach people with health and social services and better capacity of the police to focus their efforts on high-level trafficking offenses. Drug use, low-level possession and petty sale of drugs should not be subjected to criminal penalties, including prison sentences, and health and social services for drug users should be improved.
  • People who use drugs have been shown in many countries to be keen to take advantage of prevention and treatment services, but they are often systematically excluded on the grounds of being thought unworthy or unreliable as patients. Governments should invest in comprehensive HIV, TB and hepatitis C services for people who use drugs. While sexually transmitted HIV is on the decline globally, HIV transmission linked to drug use is increasing. Comprehensive HIV, hepatitis C and TB services should be scaled up in prisons as well as in the community.
  • Overdose deaths can be greatly reduced by ensuring that people who use opioids have good access to medication-assisted treatment and by ensuring that people who use drugs or are likely to witness overdoses have access to and are trained in delivering naloxone, a medicine that reverses overdose.
  • Increasing numbers of national governments and sub-national jurisdictions (such as US states) are introducing legally regulated markets of cannabis. Governments and research bodies should see these as opportunities for rigorous scientific research and evaluation so best practices for public health and safety can be identified and emulated.
  • Over-zealous drug control policies are limiting access to pain medications for legitimate clinical use in too many countries. Governments must find balanced policies for ensuring that people have access to controlled medicines such as opioids for the relief of pain while still impeding non-medical use of these substances.

 

Read the full report in the Lancet here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00619-X/fulltext