The Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, a network of 44 non-governmental organizations, research centres, collectives and associations of various fields, hereby express extreme concern about the statements of the elected mayor of the city of São Paulo, Joao Doria Jr., on the care and support strategies regarding populations in conditions of deep social vulnerability and who struggle with problem drug use, especially those who frequently visit and live in the area of the Luz neighbourhood known as "cracolândia".
On several occasions, the then candidate expressed unequivocally his intention to end the Braços Abertos (“Open Arms”) programme, created in 2014 by the City Hall of São Paulo. The speech reproduced below is clear about their plans:
"First, we will not continue with the Braços Abertos program; it is not a good programme for the city. We will adopt the Recomeço (“Restart”) programme, which is implemented by the state government on this issue with the participation of two departments: Social Promotion and Health. This programme proposes the hospitalisation/confinement of those who are victims of crack, who are psychologically dependent, so that during this hospitalisation, with medical treatment, they can stay away from drugs. "
A planned and coordinated action that integrates the capacities of state and local governments is undoubtedly beneficial. However, it is necessary to abandon the sterile dispute for visibility between these programmes and anchor the choice of the best strategies to deal with this population in situations of extreme vulnerability in technical and scientific evidence, as well as launching a political and democratic debate with the residents and frequent visitors of this zone.
In 2015, Braços Abertos was evaluated by an independent survey conducted by the Brazilian Platform for Drug Policy - which found, among other data, a very positive impact of the program on the lives of more than 90% of (the) beneficiaries, who had, for the first time, been guaranteed minimum rights, such as housing, food, employment and income. Although it also pointed out shortcomings and challenges, this research confirmed its pioneering role in applying forms of rehabilitation and treatment based on scientific evidence and promoting human rights.
Any initiative that proposes to criminalise drug users, to treat them as a case for law enforcement or even to rely on compulsory hospitalisation outside the exceptional cases provided for in the legislation should be repudiated. The assessment of beneficiaries of Braços Abertos confirmed that the vast majority have gone through the prison system, a clear indication that incarceration aggravates vulnerability.
The Recomeço Program, being based solely on the admission to therapeutic communities, is at odds with the contemporary knowledge about the care and treatment of people who struggle with problem drug use, which advocates for diverse and multifactorial health interventions. After more than three years running, the Recomeço program has not undergone any evaluation process, neither has it ever produced any data on the private bodies that receive public funds to intern tens of thousands of people. We reiterate our disbelief with this decision to abandon a programme that, despite its short existence and the obvious need for improvement, is highly rated and aroused great international interest in favour of a strategy that places hospitalisation as the only alternative to provide care and that has not undergone any kind of evaluation so far.
The people who use drugs in the region of "cracolândia" as well as in other areas of the city, are the subject of historical violations to their fundamental rights. Thus, we demand from the elected mayor that municipal policies on drugs have as basic pillars the promotion of health, respect for human rights and an effective integration with care and support policies, in particular health and social care. The abrupt extinction the Braços Abertos contributes nothing to what is expected of drug policy, namely: that it is fair, compassionate, rational and scientific.
We remain at your disposal to assist the new municipal administration to achieve these goals.
São Paulo, October 6, 2016.