Many across the globe underscores June the 26th as a day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. We, at the Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN), would also like to encourage you all to also underline this day by sharing your perspectives on the impact of the current drug control in your respective countries.
The celebration is often underlined by denouncing the use of drugs and trafficking; campaigns are organized to encourage youngsters to opt for better choice instead of drugs; various law enforcement operations are highlighted; drugs from seizures are displayed and burned; farmers living precariously close to the poverty line are taught and sometimes forced to grow for alternative licit crops instead of coca or poppy; long cherished promises and commitments to a drug free world are reaffirmed. Meanwhile, many citizens, particularly in Asia, will be executed, sometimes publicly, for crimes related to drug possession, use, dealing, production and trafficking.
But the problem of injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS continues to pose major challenges to public health across the majority of Asian countries. Lack of access to clean needles and syringes for those who are dependent on illicit drugs persist, fueling HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission. With some exceptions, the overall response to the twin epidemics of drug use and HIV in the Asia-Pacific region, and coverage of programs and services targeting people who use drugs continue to remain far below impact levels required to reduce or even contain the spread of blood-borne infections. The response across the region remains predominately conservative and focused on a zero-tolerance approach implemented by law enforcement agencies, most often leading to punishment and human rights abuses. The situation is aggravated by systematic under-resourcing of evidence-based, effective, cost-effective and safe approaches like harm reduction.
Repressive drug control policies and the criminalization of people who use drugs have further contributed to a rise in the prison populations, leading to severe overcrowding, increased risk of HIV and other blood-borne virus transmission and other health risks. Hepatitis C transmission and tuberculosis have become major challenges amongst injecting drug users (IDU). Large segments of people who use drugs living with HIV in Asia are also living with hepatitis C, and despite some modest improvements in access to antiretroviral treatment, fatalities are common, caused by liver failures. Treatment for hepatitis C is still beyond the reach of the majority of those living with the virus in Asia because of the exorbitant cost of medications.
In parallel, governments in Asia have demonstrated a strong reliance on compulsory drug treatment as part of a plan to eliminate drug dependence. Such a system has not shown positive results despite significant implementation and scale-up across many South East Asian countries. In contrast, oral substitution therapy, an evidence-based drug treatment approach that has been shown to lead to significant positive results, has not yet been scaled up to necessary levels to meet the needs of people who are dependent on drugs.
We, therefore, request all AHRN’s valued members, colleagues and friends to join us in discussing the negative consequences of drug control towards supporting the development of a more effective and balanced response to drugs and HIV in Asia. We would appreciate if your stories could be collected towards a compilation of experiences relating to drug control in Asia to be published in the future.
We also invite you to consult the IDPC’s (International Drug Policy Consortium) Drug Policy Guide http://www.idpc.net/publications/idpc-drug-policy-guide-version-1, an extremely relevant publication relating to drug control and harm reduction policies.
Interim Network Coordinator,
Asian Harm Reduction Network