Activists refute Chinese, Russian claims of drug abuse reduction

Activists refute Chinese, Russian claims of drug abuse reduction

By Luke Vargas   
A female opium addict hides her face at the Mazar-i-Sharif detox centre in Afghanistan. January 18, 2011. Flickr photo: @Jacksoncam
A female opium addict hides her face at the Mazar-i-Sharif detox centre in Afghanistan. January 18, 2011. Flickr photo: @Jacksoncam

Stated success of strict prohibition policies undermined by increased demand for rehab services and rising disease rates

UNITED NATIONS (Talk Media News) – Several countries are claiming that strict drug prohibition policies are failing as evident from an increase of addicts diagnosed with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C.

“There is an official discourse from China, from Japan, from Russia and from most of the Arabic countries speaking about the successes they have in the repression of drugs,” former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss told Talk Media News on Tuesday. “But we have really to develop the discourse that this is not the case.”

Dreifuss cited rising drug abuse rates in China and increased HIV prevalence in Russia as signs that severe policies targeting drug users in both countries are failing.

“Even these countries who are killing people in the war of drugs recognize on the other side that they have a large public health problem to solve,” she said.

The Russian Federal AIDS Center recorded a nearly six-fold increase in the number of HIV positive individuals in Russia between 2005 and 2015, with an estimated 53 percent of new infections traced back to drug injections.

Recent bans in Russia on opioid substitution treatments – which the World Health Organization, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS endorse as “effective, safe and costeffective” – have been criticized as misguided steps for a country that suffers the world’s highest rate of intravenous drug use.

In China, Communist authorities have retrofitted numerous prisons to serve as drug treatment centers in an effort to manage rising drug abuse rates, but human rights groups condemn conditions in those camps, noting that they more often mimic prisons and work camps than legitimate rehab centers.

Drug reform activists roundly reject the Chinese and Russian policy approaches, and note with excitement that harm reduction policies are beginning to catch on in many global capitals. Yet those same activists bemoan a U.N. negotiating format on drug policy that allows countries embracing harsh prohibition strategies to not only continue such policies unopposed, but enshrine them in global agreements.

“Russia, notorious for its rejection of evidence-based approaches to drug dependence treatment is hosting a side event at this coming UNGASS on science,” said Daniel Wolfe, the Director of the International Harm Reduction Development Program at the Open Society Foundations. “This would be laughable if it were not ominous. The U.N. operates by consensus, so any one country can force agreement on its views.”

Instead of permitting the summit’s draft outcome to include endorsements for drug treatment programs, countries like Russia lobbied for the inclusion of repeated insertion of language that weakens those recommendations, allowing them to ignore treatment reforms if it conflicts with national policy.

“Countries that want to continue to do whatever they’re doing independently of the international setup can continue to do so by squeezing into the text things like, ‘where consistent with national legislation,’” said Michel Kazatchkine, Co-Chair of the Johns Hopkins University–Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy.

Wolfe  said such language appeared as many as 47 times in one early negotiating draft.

A March 22nd final draft document featured such language 16 times, but nearly every usage waters down the core policy recommendation made in the surrounding text.

One use significantly undermines a call to promote proportionate sentencing policies for drug offenders, while another dampens an invitation for countries to explore “medication-assisted therapy programmes” and needle exchanges for intravenous drug users.

“It’s a particular irony since the whole point of the drug control conventions was to try to move beyond a patchwork of national responses to a single unified response,” he said.

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