As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 20, 2009

To Fight AIDS, Decriminalize Drugs

I thought this was a really interesting story from the Guardian (UK):

The use of illicit drugs must be decriminalised if efforts to halt the spread of Aids are to succeed, one of the world's leading independent authorities on the disease has warned.

In an unprecedented attack on global drugs policy, Michele Kazatchkine, head of the influential Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has told the Observer that, without a radical overhaul of laws that lead to hundreds of thousands of drug users being imprisoned or denied access to safe treatment, the millions of pounds spent on fighting HIV and Aids will be wasted.

Kazatchkine will use his keynote speech at the 20th International Harm Reduction Association conference tomorrow in Bangkok to expose the failures of policies which treat addiction as a crime. He will accuse governments of using what he calls "repressive" measures that deny addicts human rights rather than putting public health needs first.

He will argue that governments should fully commit to the widespread provision of harm reduction strategies aimed at intravenous drug users, such as free needle exchanges and providing substitutes to illicit drugs, such as methadone.

"A repressive way of dealing with drug users is a way of facilitating the spread of the [HIV/Aids] epidemic," Kazatchkine said. "If you know you will be arrested, you will not go for treatment. I say drug use cannot be criminalised. I'm talking about criminalising trafficking but not users. From a scientific perspective, I cannot understand the repressive policy perspective."

The medical component to decriminalization has not to my knowledge been explored. Just think of the ramifications. A more unhealthy society means a society that spends more and more on health care, to say nothing of the cost of imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders and not rehabilitating them so they can turn into productive members of society. Or the opportunity cost for law enforcement, who could be fighting other crimes. The argument that drug prosecutions reflect unequal treatment for African-Americans has started to take root, reflected in the subtle shift in the racial profiles of drug-crime prisoners. But these are new arguments, and just as effective, if not more so.

I hope somebody forwards this keynote speech to Jim Webb.

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