Harm Reduction

The current approach to global drug control fuels widespread human rights violations against people who use drugs. In many countries, they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment by police, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, coercive and abusive drug treatment, and denial of essential medicines and basic health services. These abuses are often committed in the name of “medicine, public health or public order.” Yet repressive drug laws and policies have not reduced drug use or prevented health-related risks and harms. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health states:

“First, people invariably continue using drugs irrespective of criminal laws, even though deterrence of drug use is considered the primary justification for imposition of penal sanctions. Second, drug dependence, as distinct from drug use, is a medical condition requiring appropriate, evidence-based treatment—not criminal sanctions. Finally, punitive drug control regimes increase the harms associated with drug use by directing resources towards inappropriate methods and misguided solutions, while neglecting evidence-based approaches.”

For example, the majority of people who use drugs do not become dependent on drugs and do not require treatment for drug dependence. Even where drug dependence is an issue, it should be treated like any other medical condition—meaning with treatment methods that are voluntary, scientifically and medically appropriate, and of good quality Finally, people who use drugs are entitled to harm reduction measures as a matter of right under international human rights law.

(Source: Health and Human Rights Resource Guide, François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health)

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