“Every 4 minutes 1 person who injects drugs becomes infected with HIV.”
This statement comes from a newly released policy report from UNAIDS on Harm Reduction. It examines the public health implications of drug policy worldwide and highlights other health issues faced by people who use drugs (PWUD), including a high incidence of hepatitis C infection. It states, “UNAIDS is calling for the global adoption of a people-centred, public health and human rights-based approach to drug use and for alternatives to the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs.”
The politics of harm reduction
As harm reduction and science-based drug policy advocates know, refining drug policy isn’t that straightforward. Earlier this month, Doctors Genie Bailey and Andrea Grubb Barthwell reflected on a statement from the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price in Science is the way out of the opioid overdose epidemic. Not stigma. They wrote:
Price stated that medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder may be ‘just substituting one opioid for another,’ and ‘we’re not moving the dial much,’ according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Price’s statement defies decades of scientific research and practical advancements in the treatment of opioid use disorder. Indeed, he sounds like he just stepped out of his neurobehavioral science lecture hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he attended medical school 40 years ago.
Their critique is spot on and alarming for those struggling with substance use in the US, and for drug users the world over if one considers the potential influence of this type of comment and direction. Keith Humphries, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at California’s Stanford University commented on the US situation:
We have an opioid epidemic that looks like it’s going to be deadlier than AIDS, but the criminal justice system handles drug addiction in almost exactly opposite of what neuroscience and other behavioral sciences would suggest. (Stanford News)
The folks over at Futurity (a great resource for the latest research news from universities) stated it simply: Drug policy needs more science, less punishment. I won’t wade into commenting on the politics of the US move to repeal Obamacare health coverage which would impact people who use drugs, but if you want to, this piece on US healthcare and drug policy touches on drug sentencing as well as the image problems the leading party could face if they move in the wrong direction.
A little over a week ago the 2017 World Drug Report was released by UNDOC. It is broken down into different booklets, each with a different focus. Booklets contain information on drug policy; health impacts of drug use; natural vs synthetic drugs; and the relationship of drugs to crime. One article sums up the report simply, headlining with Treatment, Not Prison, Way to Deal With Global Drug Epidemic.
Eyes on BC
A couple of weeks ago a group of researchers, community advocates and people who use drugs met to talk about drug policy, stigma, and the overdose crisis in BC: “Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said it’s time for policy-makers to use a patient or client-centred approach to deal with the overdose issue.”
In a piece that came out today on Huffpost, Marvin Ross compares BC’s new drug treatment guidelines to prohibition in their potentially “perverse outcomes.” (BC’s New Opioid Standards Don’t Respect Our Right To A Pain-Free Life).
The BC Government added a resource to their Opioid Overdose page: Letter to Parents and Guardians Talk Your Youth About Substance Use. On the topic of adding to resources, we have updated our Drug Use and Overdose Response page to include some of the resources noted in this blog and add a section on stigma.
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch!
Janet Madsen, Capacity Building and Knowledge Translation Coordinator, [email protected]