A new report released today by the International Drug Policy Consortium has exposed the past decade of the war on drugs as a colossal failure. Taking Stock: A Decade of Drug Policy – A Civil Society Shadow Report shows that the United Nations’ 10-year global strategy has completely missed its targets of eradicating the illegal drug market by 2019 and highlights the devastating global impacts of drug prohibition.
Given that the United Nations will be reviewing its plan of action on drugs in 2019, this report is timely resource. Its findings should compel the UN to change direction on drug policy for the next decade, shifting its objectives away from eliminating drug supply and towards advancing public health, human rights and development.
“This is another clear demonstration that the war on drugs – nearly 50 years on – continues to fail,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Not only has drug prohibition failed to reduce drug demand and supply, it has left a series of disastrous impacts on human rights, health and economic development in its wake.”
Amongst the harrowing data on the global state of drug policy, the report highlights the 145% increase in drug-related deaths over the last decade, totalling 450,000 deaths per year in 2015. Global statistics contained in the report show that criminalization of people who use drugs has fuelled mass incarceration – with 1 in 5 prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses, mostly for possession for personal use.
The report also points to the current global pain epidemic resulting from restrictions in access to controlled medicines, which has left 75% of the world’s population without proper access to pain relief.
The unprecedented number of overdose deaths in the United States receives particular mention in the report, with over 350,000 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in the past twenty years in the US, which is six times more than the number of deaths of American soldiers during the entirety of the Vietnam War.
The authors criticize the Trump Administration for its failure to adequately respond to this crisis. According to the report, only 8% of US counties implement overdose education and naloxone distribution programmes and only 10% of Americans suffering from drug dependence obtain specialty treatment, due to severe shortages in the supply of care and the lack of affordable options. Instead of expanding access to treatment and harm reduction services, the Trump Administration has moved to curtail funding for the Affordable Care Act, and has emphasized punitive criminal justice policies, rather than life-saving public health strategies.
Conversely, the report authors applaud Canada for its markedly different approach to its national overdose crisis. Canada has increased the number of supervised consumption facilities, passed the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act to protect both overdose victims and witnesses from certain charges related to drug possession when seeking emergency help, and made naloxone available without a prescription and removed regulatory barriers to the prescription of methadone and diacetylmorphine (heroin).
The full report can be found here.