VIENNA – Negotiations at the United Nations High Level Summit on drugs in Vienna last week fell flat. Although 25 countries officially stated their support for proven methods such as needle exchange and overdose prevention, the summit’s outcome was a watered-down political declaration that fails to acknowledge crucial lessons that have been learned over the last decade.
The refusal to include the words “harm reduction” seems motivated by ideology rather than science, despite clear evidence showing that needle exchange and substitution treatment keep drug users alive and free of deadly infections.
Those advocating for harm reduction accept that drugs have always been a part of human history and aim to decrease the damage caused by their production and use. A vocal few disagree with this approach, labeling it, in the Vatican’s words, “anti-life.”
Those who strive for the futile goal of a “drug-free world” refuse to recognize the proven benefits of harm reduction. But the evidence against the “war on drugs” is overwhelming: prisons swelling with non-violent drug offenders, billions of dollars spent on military action to curb production while the availability of illicit drugs increases and prices drop, and increasing HIV rates throughout the former Soviet Union and parts of Asia.