The war against people who use drugs: the costs
The new Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) report "The war against people who use drugs: the costs" shows that implementation of criminal laws regulating drug use and drug possession with no intent to supply costs more than double the amount spent on drug treatment, such as opioid substitution treatment in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “At the time of economic downturn, the limited international donors support, the priority should be to stop wasting money on interventions that have no positive outcome and usually are implemented at the expense of basis human rights. The report provides further evidence that punishment of people who use drugs not only fails to achieve any positive results but also is a tremendous waist of often limited governments resources in the region”, said Michel Kazatchkine.
Laws punishing drug use and possession require vast investment, too often at the expense of health services. Insufficient funding for drug demand reduction services is a major reason for low access to health services. As a result the region has experienced 250% increase in HIV cases over the past 10 years, needle and syringe and opioid substitution treatment programs are at best reaching estimated 10% and 3% of people who use drugs correspondingly. “Despite enormous resources spent to fight drug control, there is enough evidence demonstrating lack of effectiveness of current approach. Eliminating the criminal liability for petty drug crimes would allow to release money that can be spent on health services that prove to be efficient and cost effective in terms of preventing drug related harms”, said Mike Trace, the Chair of International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Based on the findings of the report, EHRN called on the countries to count the costs and reform policies, so they correspond to the human rights principles set in the UN Conventions, be cost effective and efficient. During the 55th session of Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), EHRN, IDPC, International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), Harm Reduction International (HRI), and International HIV/AIDS Alliance called on the governments to evaluate the costs of current drug policies and adverse consequences of the current prohibition driven regime. The much needed drug laws reform – eliminating of criminal sanction for drug use and drug possession with no intent to supply and prioritizing public health measures is the only way forward in reaching the goal set out by the Commission on Narcotic drugs in Resolution “Achieving zero new infections of HIV among injecting and other drug users” adopted a year ago.
Key findings of the report:
- Punishment for petty, non-violent drug crimes—mainly but not solely limited to criminalization of people who use drugs—results in stigma and discrimination, and creates a political climate in which human rights norms are not applied in relation to people who use drugs.
- Such policies lead to police harassment, misuse of power and extortion of money from drug users and/or their relatives.
- In most countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, governments’ unwillingness to allocate funds for harm reduction, opioid substitution therapy, HIV and hepatitis C treatment is determined not by insufficiency of national funding, but by prioritization of enforcement over health approaches.
- Such misguided priorities also have significant (and negative) financial consequences. For example:
- The Kyrgyzstan government spends around $1.25 million per year to enforce Article 246 of the Criminal Code (regarding possession of drugs with no intent to supply). By comparison, the budget for OST programs is $500,000, and is currently covered exclusively by external donors. OST costs $500 per patient a year, while punishment costs at least $625 per each person convicted for drug possession.
- In 2010 alone, the prosecution of drug offenders (for use and supply) cost at least $100 million in Russia. In comparison, under the Budget Law for 2011, HIV prevention programming is to receive less than 3% of the total $640 million to be allocated in 2012 through the Federal Budget Law for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and the government continues to prohibit internationally accepted drug treatment interventions such as OST. The government therefore will spend millions more treating people infected with HIV than it would have in protecting their health and reducing transmission.
- Georgia spends around $10.5 million annually on random street drug testing and an additional $4.7 million on imprisonment of drug offenders. This not only fails to deter people from using drugs (as eventually the majority return to drug use) but also increases criminality, social isolation and stigma. Only about 10% of the estimated 40,000 people who inject drugs are currently receiving harm reduction services, yet even that small share means that up to 1,000 new HIV infections have been averted.
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- Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN)