‘War on drugs doesn’t work’

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Recent drug busts at the OR Tambo Airport, community unrest and gang-related shootings have focused attention on drugs and South African communities.

But many experts worldwide are advising that we may not be making the right policy moves to address issues around drugs, and are questioning the wisdom of the “war on drugs”.

Twenty-five international and local experts and 120 drug policy stakeholders met  in Cape Town recently to discuss drug policies and to “have the difficult conversations that need to be had in order to understand the issues and identify appropriate solutions”, according to the South African Drug Policy Week organiser, Shaun Shelly.

These experts included legendary human rights activist, Anand Grover, the man known for leading the legal case for the repeal of laws criminalising homosexuality in India. According to Grover, who has also acted as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health and is a member of the Global Commission on Drugs, UN member states should “decriminalise or de-penalise possession and the use of drugs and review law enforcement initiatives around drug control to ensure compliance with human rights obligations”.

According to Shelly, 2017 is an important year for drug policy in South Africa. The National Drug Master Plan, as well as several Departmental Drug Plans, are in development and are slated for release before the end of the year.

The National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs (2017-2022) has just been released and contains goals to provide “harm reduction” services to people who inject drugs. Harm reduction services are already being provided by organisations such as TB/HIV Care Association’s Step up Project, which provides a package of health services to people who inject drugs.

This set of health services follows the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), among others.

Professor David Nutt, a leading British expert on Neuropsychopharmacology, discussed his view that “any sensible person or scientist knows that drug laws are not based on the science of drugs”. According to Nutt and others such as Ethan Nadelmann, advisor to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, drug policies are based on politics more than science.

Says Nadelmann: “The reason some drugs are legal and others are not, has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs.”

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