Drug policy education needed at the Holy See


Drug policy education needed at the Holy See

26 July 2013
Katherine Pettus, PhD

Pope Francis’ confused statement about drug “liberalization” not being the solution to the problem of drug dependence, shows the need for more targeted education of both the press and key public opinion leaders. It’s a (predictable) shame that the English language press such as the BBC and the Guardian chose to headline the Pope’s statement “warning” against drug “liberalization,” since the reference was a tiny part of a much wider set of theological remarks made to patients, family members and volunteers at the St. Francis Hospital and treatment center. Although a few of the Argentine and Catholic websites and newspapers I looked at in a brief and unscientific survey mentioned the “liberalization” statement and some ignored it altogether, they all highlighted the social justice message and the Pope’s condemnation of traffickers. “How many 'dealers of death' there are who follow the logic of power and money at any cost! The scourge of drug-trafficking, that favours violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage.”

It was only after embracing and making supportive statements about people who use drugs that Pope Francis said, “reducing the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America. Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, etc..” Catholic social media sites headlined the more detailed theology of the good Samaritan parable referenced by Pope Francis, not the reference to liberalization.

Although the evidence from Switzerland, Portugal Spain now shows that decriminalization results in improved public health outcomes, including seeking recovery services where they exist, no one in Latin America or anywhere else as far as I know is making the sloppy argument that “liberalization of drug use” will result in “a reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction.” Since many experts hope that regulation rather than prohibition may well result in a reduction of trafficking violence, it might be time to send a drug policy educator to the Holy See with the good news that their theology can line up with their politics when they get the facts straight.

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