Vienna Declaration: Rethink Global War on Drugs

This week, The XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) demanded a global rethink of the War on Drugs.  In what is to be called The Vienna Declaration, it called for  “governments and international organisations, including the United Nations, to:

  • Undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies.
  • Implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the individual and community harms stemming from illicit drug use.
  • Decriminalise drug users, scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options and abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • 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.
  • Meaningfully involve members of the affected community in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.

We further call upon the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to urgently implement measures to ensure that the United Nations system — including the International Narcotics Control Board – speaks with one voice to support the decriminalisation of drug users and the implementation of evidence-based approaches to drug control.”  (Footnotes omitted.)

A quick Google search indicates only the New York Times amongst US media outlets had covered the Declaration by early evening, July 23.  Online, the Times reported the US representatives’ silence on the Declaration:

[The one exception to the official American silence was] Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the [normally low-profile] director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who said she personally agreed with the declaration’s premise.

“Addiction is a brain disease,” she said. I’m a scientist. The evidence unequivocally shows that criminalizing the drug abuser does not solve the problem. I’m very much against legalization of drugs or drug dealing. But I would not arrest a person addicted to drugs. I’d send them to treatment, not prison.”

[Asked if she feared being attacked by Congressional conservatives, she said: “I took this job because I want drug users to be recognized as people with a disease. If I don’t speak about it, why even bother to gather the data?”]

(At the bottom of the online version appears this line: “A version of this news analysis appeared in print on July 23, 2010, on page A10 of the New York edition.”  That version lacks the bracketed material.)  I will comment on Dr. Volkow’s remarks in a subsequent post.

Signers of the Vienna Declaration, of whom I’m one, endorse this statement: “ The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences.  A full policy reorientation is needed.”

That reorientation is 35 years overdue.  Endorse the Declaration!