Punitive Approach Endangering Public Health
(New York) – Governments should ensure that efforts to reduce illicit drug use do not increase vulnerability to infection with hepatitis C or impede access to treatment, Human Rights Watch said today in response to a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The report, released on May 30, 2013, urges reform of existing drug policies to protect public health, minimize human rights violations, and ensure access to health care for drug users.
The 20-page report, “The Negative Impact of the War on Drugs on Public Health: The Hidden Hepatitis C Epidemic,” was released in advance of the 23rd International Harm Reduction Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania, June 9 to 12. Lithuania lies on the frontiers of the world’s fastest growing hepatitis C and HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“Punitive drug laws expose drug users to unnecessary illness and even death from hepatitis C,” said Rebecca Schleifer, health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The epidemic makes it urgent for governments to reform these laws to protect both drug users and the public health.”
The report recommends urgent and wide-ranging reforms of international drug control policies to protect the health and other human rights of drug users.
The report says that repressive drug policies have failed to reduce the worldwide illicit drug supply, and fueled the growth of organized crime, violence, and mass incarceration of people who use drugs. These failed policies have also fueled a “viral time bomb” – a massive hepatitis C epidemic that threatens serious and long-term global human, social, and economic costs.
Human Rights Watch research in many countries including the US,Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, Canada, Kazakhstan, and Bangladesh – has documented how criminal laws relating to drug use and possession for personal use, and related law enforcement practices drive people away from lifesaving information and health services.