The Vienna Declaration, a scientific statement seeking to improve community health and safety by incorporating scientific evidence into illicit drug policies, will close July 24 with more than 23,400 signatures and a demand that U.S. presidential candidates and other world leaders end the destructive and costly war on drugs.

To reinforce this demand, a controversial advertisement will run in the influential Politico newspaper tomorrow. It will call on President Obama and Governor Romney to listen to the scientific evidence and public health community and acknowledge the link between AIDS and the war on drugs, and end the war on drugs.

The Vienna Declaration, launched in July 2010 as the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS conference (AIDS 2010) in Vienna, Austria, has influenced public discourse and helped generate significant momentum for a paradigm shift in global illicit drug policy. But as the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) gets underway in Washington, DC, far more work remains to be done. Powerful countries around the world, such as the U.S., Russia and China, continue to implement illicit drug policies that lead to serious social, economic and health issues, including the spread of HIV.

“We, as members of the Vienna Declaration’s writing committee, are disappointed that governments continue to pursue illicit drug policies that waste taxpayer resources by imprisoning millions of non-violent people, contribute to organized crime and drive the HIV pandemic among illicit drug users,” said Dr. Evan Wood, chair of the Vienna Declaration writing committee and founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. “Through the Vienna Declaration, the public health and scientific community are imploring President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney and world leaders to improve community health and safety by ending the war on drugs.”

Research has consistently shown that repressive drug law enforcement practices force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risk becomes markedly elevated. Mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, prohibitions on clean needles and limited support for addiction treatment also play roles in spreading the pandemic. Today, there are an estimated 34 million people worldwide living with HIV, and injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Vienna Declaration’s endorsements include thousands of scientists, researchers, academics, and health professionals, in addition to seven Nobel Laureates and several former heads of state. Sir Richard Branson, member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and founder of the Virgin Group, recently signed the Declaration. Coinciding with AIDS 2012, all signatures are being delivered to influential world leaders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Click here for the letter.)

Since the launch of the Vienna Declaration, demands to implement evidence-based drug policy have grown louder, as exemplified by the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s bold new report, The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic.

“The war on drugs has clearly been an extremely expensive failure, yet political inaction allows it to continue to breed economic hardship, disease, death and human misery,” said Sir Richard. “Governments and international organizations have a moral and ethical obligation to implement drug policies that are based on scientific evidence and can effectively prevent disease and save lives.”

Other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy who have signed the Vienna Declaration include Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil; Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, former director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and César Gaviria, former president of Colombia.

The Declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including agencies of the United Nations, to fully reorient illicit drug policy using scientific evidence, beginning with the following five steps:

  1. Undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current national and international drug policies.
  2. Implement and evaluate a public health approach, based on the best available scientific evidence, to address the individual and community harms stemming from illicit drug use.
  3. Decriminalize drug users, scale up clinically proven drug dependence treatment options and abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  4. Unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the implementation of the comprehensive package of HIV interventions spelled out in the WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS Target Setting Guide.
  5. Meaningfully involve members of the affected community in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.

“We are gratified that strong and influential organizations – such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the International AIDS Society – continue to call for drug policies that are evidence-based and respect and protect human rights,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and member of the Vienna Declaration writing committee. “With respect to the war on drugs, we ask, who benefits from policies that waste precious taxpayer resources, fuel organized crime and contribute to the spread of HIV disease?”

Ad in politico targets presidential race

Tomorrow, during the world’s largest gathering of HIV/AIDS experts at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Vienna Declaration will run a controversial ad in the influential Politico newspaper calling on U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to acknowledge the link between AIDS and the war on drugs, and end the war on drugs.

The ad uses a graphic, powerful image of a needle and gun to reinforce the destructive and deadly nature of the war on drugs, and its devastating role in spreading HIV/AIDS. It is signed by leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDs and the war on drugs, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, César Gaviria, Sir Richard Branson, Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Evan Wood, and Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance. To view a copy of the ad, click here.

A personal story: DRACONIAN: Love and death with the war on drugs

To highlight the link between HIV and drug policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the Vienna Declaration have released a powerful video that clearly articulates the personal pain and disease caused by the criminalization of drug use.

DRACONIAN: Love and Death with the War on Drugs, produced by award-winning film-maker Pete McCormack, is a powerful 10-minute documentary about HIV positive activist Ott Suwannawong and the murderous crackdown on drug users in Thailand in 2003. Ott is a heroin addict who was imprisoned in the late ‘90’s and, without access to clean needles, contracted HIV. His story is a clear example of how, even in prison, prohibition-based drug policies propel the spread of HIV and fail to limit drug supply and demand.

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