Criminalizing injection drug use may appear to have been instituted to keep people safe, but the evidence indicates that it has the opposite effect. For over four decades, the war on drugs has shown itself to be a losing battle. This loss is evident in many different ways, especially appreciable upon evaluation of the steady growth of new Hepatitis C infection rates.
Changing legislation that has been in place for over 40 years is not a quick process. The global war on drugs is testament to the challenge of sweeping political reform, a change that is long overdue. Designed to protect people from the evils of drug use, the criminalization of drugs sends a staggering number of people to prison, consumes an enormous amount of money and supports a dangerous, underground drug culture. Despite the overwhelming evidence indicating that the war on drugs is counter-productive, legislators repeatedly lack the courage to reform our laws on drug use – fearful that their constituents will interpret any attempts at reform as supporting and/or condoning drug use.
The biggest casualties of this war are those who become dependent on illegal drugs. Instead of being viewed as a health problem, the war on drugs labels people unable to resist drugs as criminals. There are many unfortunate consequences of the criminalization of illicit drugs, one of which is its perpetuation of spreading Hepatitis C infection.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) is an organization that seeks to bring light to how drug problems are managed. According to their website, “The purpose of the Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.” If Richard Nixon had this perspective when he initiated the American war on drugs in 1971, our culture’s drug problem would likely be entirely different than it is today.
According to the GCDP, there is a growing perception that the war on drugs approach has failed. This failure is twofold:
According to a recently released GCDP report, the war on drugs has perpetuated the Hepatitis C pandemic. Based on GCDP information, an estimated 10 million of the 16 million people who inject drugs worldwide have Hepatitis C, and drug law enforcement is partially responsible for this high rate of infection. The commission suggested the following:
- Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption has not reduced drug traffic or drug use.
- The harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs in and of themselves.
“The war on drugs is a war on common sense,” said Commissioner Ruth Dreifuss, who is also the former President of Switzerland. “Repressive drug policies are ineffective, violate basic human rights, generate violence and expose individuals and communities to unnecessary risks. The Hepatitis C epidemic, totally preventable and curable, is yet another proof that the drug policy status quo has failed us all miserably.”
- Criminalizing drug use forces users away from public health services and into hidden environments where Hepatitis C risk is markedly elevated.
- Locking up injection drug users further perpetuates the spread of Hepatitis C in prisons. Mass incarceration of non-violent drug users plays a major role in spreading the pandemic.
- Replacing criminalization of drug use with harm reduction programs that include needle exchange programs will halt new Hepatitis C infections.
The World Hepatitis Alliance supports the GCDP position on drug policies with their statement, “If you compare rates of Hepatitis C in drug users in countries with good harm reduction and more enlightened drug policies with those in countries without, it is clear that regarding drug use exclusively as a criminal justice issue is a health disaster. Hepatitis C, its prevention, care and treatment must be addressed and must be addressed as the health issue it is.”
An extremely large portion of injection drug users have Hepatitis C, and deeming them criminals makes it nearly impossible to prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease. Hopefully, the warning issued by the Global Commission on Drug Policy will be heard – and legislators will finally recognize that supporting the war on drugs has a direct, negative impact on public health via perpetuation of the Hepatitis C virus.
July 09, 2013
Nicole Cutler L.Ac. | Hepatitis Central
Image Source: BBC
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