Detrimental effects of the War on Drugs on the health and human rights of drug users

March 27, 2016


Last week, The Lancet and Johns Hopkins University in the USA launched a report on the effects of the so-called War on Drugs on the health, wellbeing and human rights of drug users. The authors, members of the Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy, call for the decriminalization of non-violent minor drug offenses including use, possession, and small-scale sale.

From April, 19th, the UN will come together for the first United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs since 1998. Dr Chris Beyrer, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said: “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.” 


The 54-page report provides compelling evidence from countries that have decriminalized these minor drug offenses. In for instance Portugal and the Czech Republic, the decriminalization has led to significant public health benefits, cost savings, and lower incarceration rates, and there are no signs of a significant increase in problematic drug use. In fact, the authors found that the biggest contribution to higher rates of infection among drug users is the excessive use of incarceration and the systematic exclusion of people who use drugs from health provisions, such as needle exchange programmes and opioid substitution therapy, that can prevent HIV and hepatitis C. Further, new analysis by the Commission finds that harsher prison sentences are associated with higher rates of hepatitis C infection among injecting drug users.

Source and more information:

Access the report Public health and international drug policy, Joanna Csete, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Michel Kazatchkine, et al., The Lancet, March 24, 2016 (free after login/registration)