Experts call for new course on illegal drugs in fight against HIV

VIENNA (June 28, 2010): A team of experts and health organisations on Monday called for a scientific approach to illicit drugs, arguing that their criminalisation has been costly and ineffective and has fuelled a high HIV infection rate among intravenous drug users. The experts made the appeal in the lead-up to the 18th International AIDS Conference, to be held July 18-23 in the Austrian capital Vienna. They are launching a global signature drive for a declaration on a “science-based” approach to illegal drugs.

“As scientists, we are committed to raising our collective voice to promote evidence-based approaches to illicit drug policy that start by recognizing that addiction is a medical condition, not a crime,” Julio Montaner, conference chairman and president of the International AIDS Society, said in a statement.

The failure by law enforcement to prevent the availability of illegal drugs where there is demand “is now unambiguous,” the so- called Vienna Declaration says. The declaration – drafted by 32 medical doctors and leading specialists – appeals to governments, the United Nations and other international organisations to review the effectiveness of current drug policies, increase “evidence-based” drug addiction treatments and abolish compulsory drug treatments that violate human rights.
The declaration also calls for an increase in funding for drug treatment and “harm reduction” measures.

The consequences of failed drug-enforcement efforts are manifold, the declaration says, pointing to HIV epidemics fuelled by the unavailability of sterile needles, HIV outbreaks among prisoners and record incarceration rates in many countries.

The massive market for illicit drugs, worth some 320 billion dollars annually, has also destabilised entire countries, such as Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan. Outside sub-Saharan Africa, intravenous drug use accounts for roughly one in three new cases of HIV, the declaration says. In some areas where HIV is spreading most rapidly, such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as many as 80% of those infected with HIV are intravenous drug users.

Alternative approaches to illicit drug use – such as those implemented in the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and other countries – have proven effective, conference organisers said