Volume 96, Issue 64
Thursday, January 23, 2003

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War on drugs a failure
Study endorses policy of harm prevention

By Des Stutchbury
Gazette Staff

A scathing report regarding Canada's official policy on the treatment of drug problems and its drug enforcement policies was recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Analyses conducted by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention suggest that a maximum of five per cent of the global illegal drug flow is seized by law enforcement agencies, the study explained.

Martin T. Schechter, senior author of the study and a professor in the department of health care and epidemiology at the University of British Colombia, said his study reinforces previous analyses that have pointed towards the inefficiency of current drug policing.

"This problem [drug enforcement and treatment] belongs as the public health issue. It is an illness. [Present] policy is solely a waste of time and money," Schechter said.

"A policy of prohibition forces [drugs] into the back alleys instead of safer venues, and results in the increase and spread of HIV," Schechter said.

"Rather, the responsibility lies with the politicians and policy-makers who continue to direct the overwhelming majority of resources into failing supply-reduction strategies, despite the wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating their ineffectiveness," he said.

The study's findings support a shift in emphasis towards alternative strategies based on prevention, treatment and harm reduction – even if this shift necessitates a diversion of resources away from criminal justice interventions, Schechter added.

"There is an exaggeration on illicit drugs over the problems of alcohol and tobacco. The 'Miami Vice' view of drugs sells well politically, but is ineffective and has a negative impact," stated Robert Solomon, a professor in the faculty of law at Western.

Solomon said there are harm-reduction models that do not condone the use of illegal drugs, but ensure people who use them are receiving more support. These models include needle-exchange programs, aggressive outreach programs and an attempt to get the users off the street, into a safer environment, he said.

Recently elected mayor of Vancouver, Larry Campbell, campaigned on a platform of harm reduction.

"We are glad to see science support our stated policy of treatment, prevention, harm-reduction and enforcement," said Jeff Meggs, executive assistant to the mayor.

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