Monthly Archives: July 2010

Time to Act: A Call for Comprehensive Responses to HIV in People Who Use Drugs

Source: The Lancet

Date: July 2010.

Author: Chris Beyrer, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Michel Kazatchkine, Michel Sidibe, Steffanie A Strathdee

The published work on HIV in people who use drugs shows that the global burden of HIV infection in this group can be reduced. Concerted action by governments, multilateral organizations, health systems, and individuals could lead to enormous benefits for families, communities, and societies.

The authors of this paper review the evidence and identify synergies between biomedical science, public health, and human rights. Cost-effective interventions, including needle and syringe exchange programs, opioid substitution therapy, and expanded access to HIV treatment and care are supported on public health and human rights grounds; however, only around 10 percent of people who use drugs worldwide are being reached, and far too many are imprisoned for minor off ences or detained without trial.

To change this situation will take commitment, advocacy, and political courage to advance the action agenda. Failure to do so will exacerbate the spread of HIV infection, undermine treatment programs, and continue to expand prison populations with patients in need of care.

The article is available below in English and Japanese. Chinese, Farsi, French, Polish, Russian, and Spanish versions will also be added.

Relevant drug policy publications are almost nonexistent in languages other than English. With the help of leading experts, the Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program is publishing key documents in translation.

Download .pdf file

Portugal’s Drug Law Draws New Scrutiny

Wall Street Journal (US)

20 Jul 2010

Author: Susana Ferreira

PORTO, Portugal-This country’s move to decriminalize illicit
substances-Europe’s most liberal drug legislation-turns 10 years old
this month amid new scrutiny and plaudits.

Portugal’s decriminalization regime has caught the eye of regulators
in Europe and beyond since it was implemented in 2001. Proponents
credit the program for stanching one of Europe’s worst drug epidemics.
Critics associate it with higher crime and murder rates. Approaching a
decade in force, it is providing a real-world model of one way to
address an issue that is a social and economic drag on countries world-wide.

Norway’s government formed a committee to look at better strategies
for dealing with drug abuse and sent two delegates to Portugal in
early May. Danish politicians have also talked of moving toward full
decriminalization. In March, Danish parliamentarian Mette Frederiksen
of the opposition Social Democrats praised the Portuguese model.

“For us, this is about the addicts leading a more dignified life,” she
told Danish daily Berlingske. “We want to lower the death rates, the
secondary symptoms and the criminality, so we look keenly to Portugal.”

Decriminalization has been criticized by United Nations bodies. In its
2009 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board
expressed “concern” over approaches that decriminalize drugs or
introduce alternative treatments. “The movement poses a threat to the
coherence and effectiveness of the international drug-control system
and sends the wrong message to the general public,” the board wrote.

In July 2000, Portugal moved beyond previous liberalization regimes in
places like the Netherlands by passing a law that transformed drug
possession from a matter for the courts to one of public and community
health. Trafficking remained a criminal offense but the government did
away with arrests, courts and jail time for people carrying a personal
supply of anything from marijuana to cocaine to heroin. It established
a commission to encourage casual users to quit and backed 78 treatment
centers where addicts could seek help.

In 2008, the last year for which figures are available, more than
40,000 people used the rehab centers and other treatment programs,
according to the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a branch of
Portugal’s Ministry of Health. The ministry says it spends about •50
million ($64.5 million) a year on the treatment programs, with •20
million more provided through a charity funded by Portugal’s national

Before decriminalization, Portugal was home to an estimated 100,000
problem heroin users, or 1% of the country’s population, says Joao
Goulao, director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction. By
2008, chronic users for all substances had dropped to about 55,000, he
says. The rate of HIV and hepatitis infection among drug users-common
health issues associated with needle-sharing-has also fallen since the
law’s 2001 rollout.

Portuguese and European Union officials are loath to give publicly
funded treatment centers sole credit. They say the drop in problematic
drug users could also be attributed to heroin’s declining popularity
in Portugal and the rising popularity of cocaine and synthetic drugs
among young people.

At the same time, Portugal’s drug-mortality rate, among Europe’s
lowest, has risen. Mr. Goulao says this is due in part to improved
methods of collecting statistics, but the number of drug-related
fatalities can also be traced to mortality among those who became
addicted to heroin during the country’s 1980s and 1990s epidemic.

Violent crime, too, has risen since the law’s passage. According to a
2009 report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Portugal’s drug-use
and murder rates rose in the years after decriminalization. The
general rise in drug use was in keeping with European trends, but the
U.N. noted with some alarm that cocaine use doubled and cocaine
seizures jumped sevenfold from 2001 to 2006.

Murders rose 40% in the period. The report tentatively links that with
drug trafficking, but points out overall murder rates in Portugal remain low.

Pedro do Carmo, deputy national director of Portugal’s judiciary
police, says he doesn’t see link the rise in violent crime with
decriminalization. Instead, he praises the program for reducing the
fear and stigma attached with drug use. “Now, when we pick up an
addict, we’re not picking up a criminal,” he says. “They are more like

The Portuguese began considering drug decriminalization following a
leap in heroin addiction decades ago in the country, a major entry
point for drug trafficking from Latin America and North Africa.

The then-ruling Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Antonio
Guterres launched a political debate to discuss how to resolve the
problem. Members of the right-wing People’s Party decried any
tolerance for drug use, saying it would invite drug tourism.

Mr. Guterres’s government pushed through a full decriminalization law.
A subsequent center-right coalition led by Jose Manuel Barroso, now
president of the European Commission, didn’t repeal it.

The legislation was the first in a series of liberal policy shifts in
this predominantly Roman Catholic country. In May, President Anibal
Cavaco Silva ratified a law allowing same-sex marriage, making it the
sixth European country to do so. In 2007, Portugal went from having
among the toughest restrictions on abortion to among the most liberal.

Portugal’s focus on close-knit community and protecting the family may
be at the heart of many of these reforms, say some observers. In a
1999 report that paved the way for new drug legislation, current
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates implored that “drugs are not a
problem for other people, for other families, for other people’s children.”

Portugal’s rehab clinics, called Centros de Atendimento de
Toxicodependentes, are central to the strategy. In the lively northern
port city of Porto, dozens of patients pop in daily to the Cedofeita
rehab center to pick up free doses of methadone. Others have scheduled
therapy or family counseling sessions, also free.

“The more they can be integrated in their families and their jobs, the
better their chances of success,” says Jose Gonzalez, a psychiatrist
at Cedofeita. Mr. Gonzalez says that about half of his 1,500 patients
are in substitution treatment, 500 of which take methadone daily. He
says there is no defined model or timeline for treatment.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a
Lisbon-based European Union agency, says methadone or other
substance-substitution programs are generally viewed as successful but
has observed that some Portuguese are beginning to question long-term
methadone therapy.

“Now that the epidemic is under control for the most part, people
start asking questions,” says Dagmar Hedrich, a senior scientific
analyst with the EMCDDA. “The question now is what is going to happen
next? There is a part of the population who do not have the
possibility of leaving the treatment.”

Time to Stop Fighting the Drug War

Published June 16, 2010

By John Stossel

I’m confused. When I walk around busy midtown Manhattan, I often smell marijuana. Despite the crowds, some people smoke weed in public.
Usually the police leave them alone, and yet other times they act like a military force engaged in urban combat. This February, cops stormed a Columbia, Mo. home, killed the family dog and terrorized a 7-year-old boy — for what? A tiny quantity of marijuana.
Two years ago, in Prince George’s County, Md., cops raided Cheye Calvo’s home — all because a box of marijuana was randomly shipped to his wife as part of a smuggling operation. Only later did the police learn that Calvo was innocent — and the mayor of that town.
“When this first happened, I assumed it was just a terrible, terrible mistake,” Calvo said. “But the more I looked into it, the more I realized (it was) business as usual that brought the police through our front door. This is just what they do. We just don’t hear about it. The only reason people heard about my story is that I happened to be a clean-cut white mayor.” Radley Balko of Reason magazine says more than a hundred police SWAT raids are conducted every day. Does the use of illicit drugs really justify the militarization of the police, the violent disregard for our civil liberties and the overpopulation of our prisons? It seems hard to believe. I understand that people on drugs can do terrible harm — wreck lives and hurt people. But that’s true for alcohol, too. But alcohol prohibition didn’t work. It created Al Capone and organized crime. Now drug prohibition funds nasty Mexican gangs and the Taliban. Is it worth it? I don’t think so, and I’ll discuss this issue tomorrow night on my Fox Business show. Everything can be abused, but that doesn’t mean government can stop it, or should try to stop it. Government goes astray when it tries to protect us from ourselves. Many people fear that if drugs were legal, there would be much more use and abuse. That’s possible, but there is little evidence to support that assumption. In the Netherlands, marijuana has been legal for years. Yet the Dutch are actually less likely to smoke than Americans. Thirty-eight percent of American adolescents have smoked pot, while only 20 percent of Dutch teens have. One Dutch official told me that “we’ve succeeded in making pot boring.”By contrast, what good has the drug war done? It’s been 40 years since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. Since then, government has spent billions and officials keep announcing their “successes.” They are always holding press conferences showing off big drug busts. So it’s not like authorities aren’t trying. We’ve locked up 2.3 million people, a higher percentage than any other country. That allows China to criticize America’s human-rights record because our prisons are “packed with inmates. Yet drugs are still everywhere. The war on drugs wrecks far more lives than drugs do! Need more proof? Fox News runs stories about Mexican cocaine cartels and marijuana gangs that smuggle drugs into Arizona. Few stop to think that legalization would end the violence. There are no Corona beer smugglers. Beer sellers don’t smuggle. They simply ship their product. Drug laws cause drug crime. The drug trade moved to Mexico partly because our government funded narcotics police in Colombia and sprayed the growing fields with herbicides. We announced it was a success! We cut way back on the Colombian drug trade.
But so what? All we did was squeeze the balloon. The drug trade moved across the border to Peru, and now it’s moved to Mexico. So the new president of Mexico is squeezing the balloon. –Now the trade and the violence are spilling over the border into the United States.
That’s what I call progress. It the kind of progress we don’t need. Economist Ludwig von Mises wrote: “(O)nce the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, (w)hy not prevent him from reading bad books and bad plays? The mischief done by bad ideologies is more pernicious than that done by narcotic drugs.” Right on, Ludwig!
John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network. He’s the author of “Give Me a Break” and of “Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.” To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at