The Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission calls for new policies that would transform our approach to drug use, addiction, and control worldwide, including the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug offenses.
Drug policies aimed at restricting and criminalizing drug use and minor possession have had detrimental effects on the health, wellbeing, and human rights of drug users and the wider public in the past 50 years, according to a new report by The Lancet and Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.
“The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” said Commissioner Dr. Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, U.S. “The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”
In its report, the Commission concluded the following:
- Drug use, low-level possession, and petty sale of drugs should not be subjected to criminal penalties, including prison sentences, and health and social services for drug users should be improved.
- Governments should invest in comprehensive HIV, TB, and hepatitis C services for people who use drugs. In addition, comprehensive HIV, hepatitis C, and TB services should be scaled up in prisons as well as in the community.
- Overdose deaths can be reduced by ensuring that people who use opioids have good access to medication-assisted treatment and by ensuring that people who use drugs or are likely to witness overdoses have access to and are trained in delivering naloxone, a medicine that reverses overdose.
- Governments and research bodies should approach legally-regulated markets of cannabis as an opportunity for rigorous scientific research and evaluation so best practices for public health and safety can be identified and emulated.
- Governments must find balanced policies for ensuring that people have access to controlled medicines such as opioids for the relief of pain while still impeding non-medical use of these substances.
“Approximately 11 percent of people who used illicit drugs worldwide are classed as problematic drug users,” said Commissioner Adeeba Kamarulzaman, MBBS, Professor and Dean, University of Malaya School of Medicine, KL, Malaysia. “But the idea that all drug use is necessarily ‘abuse’ means that immediate and complete abstinence has been seen as the only acceptable approach. In countries and regions where opiate substitution therapy remains unavailable or is not provided to scale, HIV and hepatitis C epidemics continue to expand. Furthermore, continued criminalization of drug use fuels HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis transmission within prisons and the community at large. There is another way. Programs and policies aimed at reducing harm should be central to future drug policies.”
In short, the Commission calls for governments to take an evidence-based approach to drug policy.