In April, the United Nations is meeting to discuss the worldwide policy on drugs. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne must be urged to forge a different approach
A war on drugs is no longer compatible with modern times. Big words and repression should be replaced with measures focusing on limiting health risks. Prevention, information and care are the areas international drug policy should be concentrating on. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne will soon attend a special meeting of the United nations, it is time to promote a different approach to drugs.
In April this year the United Nations is organising the third United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem. During this meeting countries will discuss the measures included in the worldwide policy on drugs. In 1998 the meeting agreed on a roadmap to eliminate drugs: the so-called war on drugs.
Nearly two decades on drugs are still with us and that is hardly surprising. It is impossible to eliminate drugs altogether. And so the question we need to ask is whether the war on drugs, with its emphasis on criminalising drug users, is effective.
We should focus on limiting the effects of drugs on health. For that, a new approach to an international drugs policy is necessary. Ditch the strong language and concentrate on what scientists call ‘harm reduction’, i.e. limiting the damage drugs do.
The present policy on drugs has an enormous social impact. In many countries drug users are regarded as criminals and for this reason many go without the necessary (medical) help.
Drug users who inject are still 28 times more likely to become infected with hiv but only 1 in 10 infected drug users receives medication. Youngsters on drugs are often left to deal with things themselves for lack of a specific policy on the prevention of drug use.
Another aspect is the damage caused to the environment by drug production. And all the while poverty and feelings of hopelessness drive people into the arms of the big drug syndicates and organised crime.
The recent shift in drugs policy in the United States, where several states are introducing progressive drugs policies, open the door to a better common approach. The forthcoming UNGASS conference provides the ideal opportunity to break the current impasse. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, as the coordinating government representative, would do well to take the lead in making this policy change happen.
In New Zealand, the 2007/2008 New Zealand Alcohol and Drug Use Survey reported the most common age of first using drugs was 15–17 years (34.6%) and 18–20 years (27.8%, 26.3–29.3), among those people who had ever used drugs. Almost one in five people who had ever used drugs had first done so when they were aged 14 years or younger (17.0%, 15.5–18.6).
We ask the Associate Health Minister to highlight the vulnerability of those who are at risk of abuse as a result of the present drugs policy. The time has come to introduce a new, realistic vision aimed at health instead of repression.