Decriminalize drugs, urge B.C. groups ahead of AIDS conference

vancouversun.com – health
June 28, 2010.   By Todd Coyne, Canwest News Service

Two Vancouver-based health policy groups are urging international officials to decriminalize drug use.

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy partnered with the International AIDS Society to release a report Monday arguing that criminalizing drug users spreads violence and infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS.

The Vancouver-based groups were instrumental in drafting the Vienna Declaration ahead of the 2010 AIDS conference scheduled for Vienna next month.

Dr. Evan Wood, an author of the declaration and the founder of the Centre for Science in Drug Policy, said the paper urges political leaders to put ideology aside and treat drug-use as a public-health crisis rather than a law enforcement issue.

“It makes the case quite forcefully that not only has drug-law enforcement failed to achieve its stated objectives in terms of reducing drug supply . . . but there is also a range of unintended consequences,” said Wood. “If you look at countries that rely more on law enforcement to deal with drugs, you also see higher HIV rates among drug users.”

Wood said HIV rates increase as intravenous drug users are literally forced into the shadows, where they are increasingly difficult to reach with public-health education and social services.

While Wood and his fellow researchers named in the declaration are hesitant to call their public health model “legalization,” they advocate regulation of the drug trade and the decriminalization of the drug user, he said.

“I don’t think your average person knows that marijuana is more accessible to young people than alcohol,” said Wood, noting that Portugal has the lowest rate of marijuana use of all European Union countries after decriminalizing all drug use in 2001.

“Maybe all this emphasis on law enforcement just serves to glamorize these drugs . . . but, if we deal with this as a health issue, like we have with alcohol and tobacco, maybe we can have an impact on this problem.”

Wood and his colleagues plan to track what influence the declaration has on world drug policy in preparation for next year’s global AIDS conference in the United States.

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