Thursday, 29 October 2009

UN vs UN - Decriminalising Drug Use and Human Rights Abuse

When the UN's top health rights official publicly contradicts the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), you know something is brewing.

Driven by the US’s "War on Drugs", the UNODC along with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) have kept an iron grip on how the world administers their drug policies promoting fear, intimidation and harsh laws. This has resulted in millions of unnecessary deaths and untold suffering around the world especially for minority groups. This prohibitionist approach is also responsible for; a huge shortage of morphine for pain treatment(especially poorer nations), a rapidly growing prison population, much of the world’s crime, extreme alienation and despair for users and addicts and the world’s second largest industry giving organised crime/terrorists $400 billion dollar a year.

The UN’s policy of denying drug use is a medical issue and putting it firmly under the wing of law enforcement has been taken up differently by each country with some going to extremes. Because the UN’s drug policies is based on the belief that drug use is immoral, countries are free to interpret the moral aspect to suit their ideology or political position. Although the recent trend is to replace the moral argument with facts and science, most countries have followed the UN/US lead and implemented a harsh, cruel system to deal with drugs.

In a surprise speech, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover has heavily criticised some Asian countries for their treatment of drug users and addicts which is ironic because they are simply following the guidelines of the UN’s drug policy. Anand Grover pointed that after years of abuse, cruel treatment practices and draconian laws, the 90% relapse rate was a sign that the current system was a failure. But the biggest upset was his call for decriminalisation of drug use. Something that the UNODC has firmly rejected as an option under any circumstance.

This must come as a real shock for Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC. He has continually dodged questions about the effectiveness of UN drug policy over the years and ignored many requests to explain why countries with more liberal drug laws have far fewer drug problems than those that support UN drug policies. Costa has also fluffed off claims of human rights abuse resulting from the UN’s prohibitionist strategy. For one of his own to discredit the policies he so rigourously defends must add to his frustration of pushing such failed policies. But it’s just another blow in a long line of criticism that has followed Costa and his impotent yet arrogant support of prohibition.

Listen to an interview with Anand Grover on Radio National or read it here

UN Official Calls For Decriminalizing Drug Use
Monsters and
October 2009

Hanoi - The UN's top health rights official called Tuesday for the decriminalization of drug use and an end to mandatory drug rehabilitation camps in Asia, which he said amounted to 'keeping sick people jailed.'

Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, made the call at a conference on international health rights in Hanoi.

'The criminalization of these practices actually hinders the right to health of all persons,' Grover said. He denounced the practice by many Asian states, including China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam, of compelling drug addicts to detoxify in mass treatment camps.

There are over 50,000 inmates of mandatory drug treatment camps in Vietnam, and up to 350,000 in China, according to the Open Society Institute.

Heroin addicts who detoxify in rehabilitation camps have relapse rates exceeding 90 per cent. Most scientific experts now advocate oral substitution therapy with drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine, which eliminate the craving for heroin.

But many countries are reluctant to embrace such therapy, which they consider substituting one drug dependency for another. In Vietnam, heroin addicts are sent to mandatory rehabilitation centers for up to four years.

Several Vietnamese experts at the conference said their country was gradually moving away from the treatment center approach and embracing substitution therapy. The country's 2007 law on AIDS adopted a so-called 'harm reduction' approach to drug addiction, rather than focusing solely on detoxification.

A pilot program of Vietnamese methadone clinics began operating in April 2008. Six methadone clinics now serve 1600 former heroin addicts in Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh City, funded with grants from the US PEPFAR anti-AIDS program.

About 95 per cent of those receiving methadone have stuck with the program, said Dr Nguyen To Nhu, Vietnam program director of Family Health International, which helps run the clinics.

Dr Le Giang, a Vietnamese researcher who has studied the clinics, said the failure of detoxification at treatment camps often led to a fatalistic belief that quitting heroin was impossible.

'Many families, and even drug users themselves, completely lost their faith in treatment,' Giang said. He said many users had been inspired by the ability of methadone to restore their 'ownership of their own bodies and lives.'

Giang said there was 'much more openness, from the top level to the community level, to talk about [methadone treatment], but there's still a long way to go.'

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