Red Cross calls for humanitarian drug policies that include decriminalization
Recognizing the utter failure of the perpetual war on drugs to accomplish anything beneficial whatsoever in the world, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies , the world's largest humanitarian network, has officially come out in open opposition to it, calling also for massive drug policy reform.
Speaking on behalf of the organization, Dr. Lasha Goguadze, Senior Health Officer at IFRC, told United Nations (UN) policymakers at the recent 55th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria, that the continued criminalization of drug use is not the answer to the global drug abuse epidemic, and that rational, humanitarian drug policies are the only way to instigate any sort of positive change.
Commenting on how current drug policies force drug users "underground" and out of the public light, Dr. Goguadze explained in detail how this marginalization leads to greater problems in society than if the drugs involved were simply legal. Since drug users will still find drugs regardless of whether or not the state approves of them, it is important to focus on helping, rather than criminalizing and ultimately incarcerating, individuals with drug abuse problems.
"The best people who use drugs can hope for is to be driven underground to live with the addiction in the dark back streets and abandoned buildings of our towns and cities," said Dr. Goguadze. "Or even worse, they are criminalized and jailed with little or no regard for their healthcare rights or the impact of this policy on the health of their communities."
Drug use in many areas obviously takes place discreetly and out of sight in order to avoid attention from authorities. And because of this, many drug users in some of the worst drug abuse areas will congregate in filthy quarters and share needles and other sensitive drug paraphernalia, which is responsible for spreading deadly diseases that create perilous public health problems.
Legalizing drugs may actually help more drug abusers to get the help they need
Rather than continuing to adhere to policies that threaten drug users with imprisonment, fines, and open discrimination, policymakers should instead adopt proactive interventions that aim to de-stigmatize drug use, according to Dr. Goguadze. Doing so, she says, can actually help those stricken with drug addiction, as well as protect the public from the rampant spread of disease that often results from certain forms of drug abuse.
One proactive option suggested by Dr. Goguadze includes opioid substitution therapy programs that help opioid users to kick their drug addiction by gradually phasing them out of it, as opposed to cold turkey detoxification programs that can cause serious health problems or death. Another option includes programs that educate about safe needle and syringe use -- if users are going to use the drugs regardless, it is important to help them do it safely for public health purposes.
"The IFRC strongly calls upon key stakeholders and donors to exert all possible efforts to gather knowledge on the scale of the drug use epidemic at country level and decided on the proper response accordingly. Criminalization, discrimination and stigmatization are not such responses," said Dr. Goguadze in her concluding statements. "Laws and prosecutions do not stop people from taking drugs."
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Sources for this article include:
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Red Cross calls for decriminalization of drugs