“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome.” - Albert Einstein
With the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking once again upon us, we reflect upon yet another year in which governments have failed to recognize the disastrous consequences and failures of the global “war on drugs.” This year, as in the past, the 26th of June will be met with calls to buckle down, toughen up, and “win the war” once and for all. An untold number will be killed for their alleged complicity in drug crimes – a horrific parade made all the worse with the knowledge that their executions are so callously timed to coincide with this day.
Still, there are signs of hope. For the first time, numerous leaders in a region plagued by drug trafficking are acknowledging that the current hard-line approach has failed. Latin American leaders have finally found the courage to stand up en masse to call for a radical rethink of the agenda. Formerly taboo words like decriminalization are suddenly on the table. These developments deserve both plaudits and encouragement. But they do nothing to bring back the tens of thousands who have been murdered along the way.
In other regions of the world, the approach to drugs has hardly changed. In Asia, where we at AHRN are based, governments continue to obstinately insist on a hawkish approach, denigrating any voices advocating for the respect of human rights in the process. In Thailand the deputy prime minister has called for death sentences of accused drug criminals to be implemented within 15 days, without any recourse for an appeal. This shows nothing has been learned in the 10 years since the atrocious violence and rights abuses of Thailand’s last failed “war on drugs.” Indian advocates for decriminalization have been met with stony silences and frozen out of government discussions.
Such an approach affects not only the drug trade, which continues to grow and flourish as never before, but the treatment of its ultimate victims: people addicted to drugs. In the absence of a rational and levelheaded arena in which to discuss drug policy, interventions that should be clear to anyone interested in protecting public health is inevitably politicized. Needle and syringe exchange programs, opioid substitution therapy, and other services are viewed with suspicion as programs to encourage drug use instead of what they really are: sound, evidence-based health policy.
Years of failed efforts and lost lives make it unequivocally clear that the current strategy has failed. On this 26th of June, we implore governments and agencies to radically rethink and retool their approach to trafficking and drug abuse.
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