A global call for an end to the War on Drugs has won the support of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).
The Vienna Declaration, a declaration of the 18th International AIDS Conference, to be held in Austria in mid-July, calls for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies, and notes that an over-reliance on drug law enforcement has resulted in overwhelmingly negative heath and social consequences across the globe.
The Declaration had already secured the backing of the International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and Canada’s British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
Other supporters include Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008 for her discovery of HIV, and Michel Kazachkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
“In addition to failing to achieve its stated objectives, the conventional War on Drugs approach stigmatises and criminalises people who use drugs, increasing their vulnerability to HIV,” Barré-Sinoussi wrote in supporting the declaration.
“There is an impressive body of literature documenting the economic, social, and public health values of lifesaving programs such as methadone maintenance therapy, needle exchange, and other harm reduction initiatives.
“Every time [governments] fail to act on evidence-based drug policy options, they cost us precious time in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
AFAO executive director Don Baxter said his organisation would sign the Vienna Declaration and would be pushing the major parties to take a different track in their approach to drugs.
“Each election we give the major parties a list of major policy issues to get their responses on what they’ll commit to doing if they are elected,” Baxter said.
“This year we intend to include a question around treating drug use as primarily a health issue rather than a criminal issue.”
Baxter said Australia had much to learn from the example set by Portugal, which removed criminal penalties for the personal use of all drugs nine years ago, resulting in a drop in HIV rates and underage drug-taking, and an increase in the number of people seeking drug treatment.
Drug use has not increased in Portugal and drug dealing remains a crime.
“Australia should move away from the so-called War On Drugs and treat drug use as primarily a health issue, thereby shifting major areas of funding from law enforcement and jails across to the health system and also substantially reducing opportunities for corruption, particularly among the police forces,” Baxter said.
“The whole gamut of options should be investigated, but legalised prescription of heroin would be one, and one of the reasons for doing that is to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection and hepatitis C infection on a big scale.”