The impact of drugs on people’s lives and their communities across the globe demanded an honest discussion on what drug policies and programs are most effective and what could be done better. Civil society has responded to this call and has actively contributed to the preparations for UNGASS 2016.
The aim of the Civil Society Task Force for UNGASS 2016 was to bring the various voices of civil society working on issues related to drugs in their communities and countries to the UNGASS, so that their representatives may better respond to realities on the ground.
And our work has been successful. Through a global online survey, various regional and thematic consultations and many events and meetings, the Civil Society Task Force has involved many hundreds of civil society representatives in the discussions leading to the UNGASS. Through these, common concerns and issues specific to certain countries and regions have been identified.
Participant civil society representatives have agreed that the death sentence should not be used for people arrested on drug charges and should be abolished altogether. Also, they strongly believe that there needs to be greater access to essential medicines, such as morphine, for terminally-ill patients.
During the consultation process, specific recommendations have been made on the health, crime, human rights, alternative development dimensions and new challenges of the world drug problem:
ü need for an effective and comprehensive public health approach to drug policy, including a continuum of care (evidence-based prevention, adequate harm reduction services and supplies to reduce harms and evidence-based and culturally appropriate treatment, recovery and social reintegration), one which is more than the health of individuals and that encompasses the well-being and sustainability of communities and populations.
ü need for appropriate funding to support all the stages of the continuum of care, making drug related services, in particular harm reduction and treatment (community-based or occupational therapy, for example), widely available and freely accessible to all people who use drugs, regardless of nationality, race/ethnicity, age, gender, class, or any other demographic characteristic, promoting recovery and social reintegration as achievable outcomes of drug dependence treatment programs.
ü the lack of access to controlled medicines for medical treatments, including the relief of pain, and suffering is a serious failing in the public health system and a violation of the right to health, and must be addressed.
ü there should be informed consent for treatment and a prohibition of non-consensual drug dependence treatment.
ü need for more drug treatment services, jointly addressing mental health and addiction problems.
ü reinforced commitment to reduce transmission of blood borne infections, including HIV, among people who inject drugs, in particular in detention, including prison settings, and to prevent overdoses through the provision of harm reduction services.
ü accurate formal and informal education and information regarding drugs needs to be made available for young people, as part of comprehensive and evidence-based early intervention and prevention programs. Also, there is a need for evidence-based treatment and harm reduction for young people. Acknowledge the harm of drugs to the physical, mental and social well-being of users and their communities, in particular for young users. Youth should be actively involved in the development and design of drug policies. In addition, young people should not be criminalized for the use of drugs. Governments are responsible for preventing and discouraging children and young people from using drugs.
ü proportional sentencing for drug related offences, including the universal abolition of the death penalty, while making a distinction between drug users and drug traffickers.
ü observe due process and use alternatives to incarceration for drug related offences to reduce
prison overcrowding and the overburdening of criminal justice systems.
ü more and better training for law enforcement personnel to deal with drug related cases.
ü strengthen mechanism of regional and international cooperation against organised crime, in terms of production, distribution and sale of illegal drugs without undermining the human rights of affected populations and addressing related violence and exploitation.
ü promote good governance, the rule of law and fight corruption, in order to foster peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.
ü drug treatment and social support for offenders should be better integrated into all criminal justice approaches as a key harm reduction intervention, including post sentence.
ü correction facilities should be sufficiently funded to provide or access both mental health and drug-related treatment options as necessary for inmates, including transition to active follow-up on release.
ü acknowledge the rights and supporting role of families, communities, schools, workplaces and the society at large in addressing drug related issues. Use of drugs causes harm to others than the users themselves, therefore the rights of all those affected need to be protected and their contributions in reducing and preventing drug-related harm are essential.
ü acknowledge the human rights of people who use drugs and understand that they deserve to be
treated with respect. People who use drugs must not be subject to arbitrary detention or arrest, arbitrary stop and search, compulsory treatment or forced labour. Their bodily integrity must not be violated through drug testing or, in the case of women and girls, through being pressured or coerced to terminate their pregnancy or to be sterilized.
ü drug policies should be sensitive to the needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as youth, women and girls, families and communities, people who use drugs, indigenous people, ethnic minorities.
ü address stigma, discrimination against and the reintegration of drug users, protecting their health and well-being.
ü acknowledge the right of the child to be protected from drugs and reinvigorate commitment to the Best Interest principle – i.e. to consider the impact of public policy decisions on the well-being of children, and to ensure Child Rights, as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are protected and promoted.
ü the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without significant progress on the world drug problem. Under the Health goal (SDG3), target 3.5 stipulates to ”strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.” It is in this context that alternative development approaches to the world drug problem carry promising potential.
ü integrated sustainable development opportunities for those currently involved in the
cultivation of crops used to produce illicit drugs, and putting an end to conditioning farmers’ inclusion in alternative development projects on prior eradication of these crops.
ü where crop reduction is desirable and feasible it needs to be gradual and reached in dialogue and agreement with the affected communities, based on mutual respect and confidence.
ü involve communities with crops used for illicit purposes in all phases of development plans: funding, planning, design, implementation and monitoring.
ü allocate resources for the study of new psychotropic drugs (NPS) as they reach the market, inform the public about health consequences, develop early warning system and promote the sharing of best practices in reducing NPS related health and social harms.
ü address the use of the internet and the media in general, and social media in particular, to encourage the social acceptability for drug use, and supply drugs.
ü need for accurate and evidence based data to inform drug policies and programs and guide funds allocation as well.
ü monitoring and evaluation frameworks to establish whether drug policies and programs are cost-effective and making societies healthier and safer. Use of SDG indicators to this purpose.
ü more effective use of metrics and indicators to measure the success of drug policies are needed as current measurements do not consider the way in which drug policy impacts on and is influenced by poverty, inequality, discrimination, food insecurity, environmental damage or the links between terrorism and organized crime.
ü promote a culture of cooperation and sharing of best practices at all levels as part of a collective responsibility to address drug related issues.
ü working on the ground, civil society organizations, in particular those representing vulnerable and marginalized groups (such as youth, women and girls, families and communities, people who use drugs, indigenous people, ethnic minorities etc.) are a key resource for governments in elaborating, implementing and monitoring drug policies and programs within a comprehensive public health framework. Civil society organizations need to be adequately funded to support these processes in a meaningful and constructive way.
There are also issues on which diverse opinions have been expressed, especially relating to the international drug control conventions and recent decriminalization and (regulation) legalization trends in some jurisdictions. While some civil society representatives advocate for the preservation of the drug conventions and making use of flexibility in interpreting and implementing them, others consider that the time has come to explore reinterpreting and revisiting these legal instruments. They also advocate for greater drug policy experimentation by UN Member States, maintaining that they should be able to choose which drug-related policies to implement based on their own individual circumstances, cultures, needs and priorities. Various views, including concerns, have also been expressed concerning the health and social costs of existing and/or potential drug regulation and decriminalization in some parts of the world.
*Presented at the UNGASS Civil Society Forum organised by the CSTF on 18 April 2016, UNHQ