As the world again marks the United Nation’s “International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking,” too many UN member states are still missing the point — namely, that drugs are primarily a health issue and not a matter for the criminal justice system.

June 26 has become synonymous with outdated, punitive drug policies adopted in the absurd fantasy that they will bring about a “drug-free world.” After all, this was the implicit goal when this commemorative day debuted three decades ago.

In many countries, governments have “celebrated” June 26 with an orgy of violence, vilification and misinformation. In the past, some made a show of executing people for alleged drug offences, contrary to international human rights law. Many brag about drug busts and the quantities of drugs seized, despite this having no lasting positive effects. Some government leaders seize the day to further demonize drugs and people who use them. In some countries, government authorities spread falsehoods denying the need for, and benefits of, evidence-based drug treatment options and harm reduction services.

But prosecutions and punishments don’t actually put an end to drug use or drug markets. And they certainly do nothing to assist people whose drug use is problematic and who need support of various kinds, from housing to basic health care to addiction treatment that is evidence-based and respects personal dignity and autonomy.

For this reason, in 2013, the International Drug Policy Consortium launched “Support. Don’t Punish.,” a growing global counter-campaign to challenge this harmful June 26 orthodoxy.

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