UN’s prohibitionist approach with illicit drugs demonstrates impotency

Dear Editor,
The UN held a special session, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Illicit and Illegal Drugs between 16 April and 19 this year.
The session was called in recognition of the increasing health and economic burdens posed by the growing problem of illicit drug use and drug dependency in the world.
The illicit and illegal drug use problem has morphed into an enormous tragedy affecting individual lives in millions of families and threatening the economics and security of families, communities and countries around the world, with no exception.
The drug problem is not only a social problem; it is an economic and security issue of enormous proportion. The involvement of the UN rightly underlines the recognition that this global problem can only be solved through concerted global cooperation and action.
The UNGASS 2016 on Illicit and Illegal Drugs was intended to formulate and agree on a framework strategy to tackle, stop the growth and reverse the illicit drug pandemic.
Unfortunately, the agreement reached is a continuation of the prohibitionist strategy presently being used, calling for more concerted and better implemented prohibitionist programmes. The prohibitionist approach seeks to make the world an illicit drug-free world, a goal that is unreachable.
In so doing, the UN reinforces its continued impotency in dealing with global social crises with significant economic impacts.
The weak drug agreement at the 2016 UNGASS, together with the failure to introduce a global minimum tax collected at national levels for tobacco and soda, major global killers, further intensifies the feeling among global citizens that the UN is impotent in dealing with global social crises.
The 2015 UN Global Drug Report estimates that about 250 million persons ages between 15 and 64 used illicit drugs at least once in 2013.
There is an estimated 27 million people with drug use disorders, and more than 400,000 of them die each year. About 13 million of the 27 million are injecting drug users and about 1.7 million are HIV-positive.
The health, social and economic harm caused by the illicit use of psychoactive drugs is an enormous development problem for every country in the world.
While illicit drugs cause direct damage to the physical and mental health of users, drastically reducing the length and quality of their lives, the problem has morphed into an economic and security challenge.
In facing up to the challenge globally, there are two factions. The traditional faction wants to treat all drug users as criminals, confronting the problem as strictly a security problem.
But the second faction wants to treat the illicit drug problem with a more humane approach, seeing the illicit drug disorders from a health perspective. Both factions concede that the drug lords are criminals.
Of the 27 million persons who suffer from a drug disorder problem, 16 million overuse opioid drugs, psychoactive substances derived from the opium poppy, or their synthetic analogues. Examples are morphine and heroin.
Worldwide, an estimated 69, 000 people die from opioid overdose each year. There are effective treatments for opioid dependence, yet, only 10 per cent of people who need such treatment are receiving it.
The inexpensive medication, naloxone, can completely reverse the effects of opioid overdose and prevent deaths due to opioid overdose.
Programmes such as these must become global initiatives, supported at the UN. Since the 2016 UNGASS on drugs ended last week, Richard Branson, the Head of Virgin Group of Companies in the UK, three former presidents and a renowned Aids researcher have called for all drugs to be decriminalised at a press conference that was sharply critical of the UN’s latest drug policy agreement, adopted this week.
They concluded that the UN’s first special session on drugs in 18 years had failed to improve international narcotics policy, choosing to only tweak its prohibition-oriented approach to drug regulation.
Activists for drug policy reform had hoped for greater emphasis on harm reduction programmes. But some countries like Russia and Egypt, countries that favour strong repressive criminal actions, exerted undue influence on the outcome. The Representative from Indonesia insisted that capital punishment must be an important part of the global drug policy. Nations like China also support this notion. The 2016 UNGASS on Drugs has made the drug lords very happy.
The continued prohibitionist approach means that the over 0 billion illicit drug trade will continue to grow to become the world’s largest business and continue the plague that kills too many in an extrajudicial death sentence.
The impotency of the UN to deal with problems that are global in nature calls into question the manner in which we make decision. The fact is that the outcome document at the 2016 UNGASS in New York City had the rhetoric of the world leaders, but the outcome document was formulated in 2015 in Austria.
About 75 countries without representation in Austria did not participate. Virtually all of Caricom, many Latin American, African and Pacific countries were not present.
Now countries must await the follow-up meeting in 2019 to ensure a change in direction to end this plague. It is high time that the UN awake from its slumber and deal with its impotency in confronting a deadly pandemic.
The time has come for real action and to stop the talkshop.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy