So, what does the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) consider are the most pressing issues facing international drug control efforts?
The need for access to harm reduction services to prevent HIV and Hepatitis C transmission through injecting drug use? Access to opiates for pain relief for everyone in need, including those with terminal diseases? Objection to a possible reinstatement of the ‘war on drugs’ in Thailand, which, in 2003, claimed the lives of at least 2,200 people through extrajudicial killings?
No. Instead, in the media launch of its annual report, the UN expert body responsible for overseeing the international drug control conventions seemed more worried about celebrities using drugs, claiming that dealing with famous people in a lenient manner encourages a permissive attitude to drugs amongst young people.
This is troubling.
An international body geared towards monitoring the three UN drug control conventions has far more pressing concerns than what model Kate Moss is snorting or singer Amy Winehouse is smoking. Thirty percent of all HIV infections (excluding sub-Saharan Africa) are through unsafe injecting drug use, an issue that is all but ignored in the report.
The INCB visited Brazil in 2007, and the country features in this year’s report. Yet there is no mention of the hundreds of deaths in the favelas through indiscriminate police violence. The INCB also visited Viet Nam in 2007, but has not mentioned the all too common application of the death penalty for drug offences, in violation of international human rights law.
The Board has created a new category of offender, the ‘celebrity user’, one to be made an example of for the benefit of the greater good, something that is completely outside its mandate under the conventions. Indeed, the INCB presents no evidence that celebrities are treated more leniently in the first place. And in suggesting this, the august body contradicts itself; in the first chapter of its own report, the INCB calls for a focus on traffickers, not individual users.
Our advice to the International Narcotics Control Board: worry less about soundbites and celebrities and more about the real issues and the lives of millions affected by your work.
Amy, good luck with your recovery – now, on to the important work.
NB Over 10 years the Drug Foundation has published 500 articles in the Matters of Substance magazine. Half of these stories are available here as webpages, and the rest are in PDF format only (download May 2008 copy 1.3 MB).
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