Mat Southwell is a member of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), an advocacy network funded by Harm Reduction International and others. Mat is participating this week in the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs as a civil society/drug user representative on the UK delegation. Below is the text of a statement he gave yesterday during one of the thematic roundtable sessions.
'Many new and emerging challenges face the international community with regards to the world drug problem, and old challenges remain as vexing as ever, we believe that many of these will be addressed in other round tables that will take place in the course of this High Level Meeting.
From the UK’s perspective one of the clearest imperatives that face us in the area of drug policy is the need to honour our commitments to the Millenium Development Goals in preventing the spread of HIV, and to ensuring universal access to treatment, care and support by 2010.
In the 1980s a number of cities in the developed world countries realized that they had HIV rates approaching or exceeding 50% among injecting drug users. The threat to cities like Edinburgh, Dublin, Milan, and New York led to a fundamental re-think of traditional drug practice approaches. Scientific evidence shows that the introduction of needle exchange, opioid substitution therapy, and outreach services was key to curtailing these public health crises before they became national catastrophes.
Two decades later a new generation of countries and cities are facing HIV rates at or above 50% of injecting drug users. The HIV epidemic is now being driven in some countries by injecting drug user but the consequences will reach far beyond my community. While you may not care about the lives of my community, our deaths also leave our children without parents and our parents without their children. Even if this doesn’t move you, many developing world countries are storing up a public health time bomb that will wipe out swathes of their productive work forces while simultaneously placing a huge burden on fragile healthcare systems.
However, this year’s declaration is so driven by dogma that it will not even acknowledge the life saving impact of harm reduction interventions.
I would like to thank the UK government for inviting the International Network of People who Use drugs (INPUD) to join its delegation. In many countries around the world, we are recognized as partners in the dialogue around the implementation and review of drug policy and practices. However, the UN’s drug control program remains at odds with almost every other division of the UN in its engagement with civil society.
Drug use and drug policy touches the lives of many but the coordination of drug policy remains exclusive to Member States only and as such UNODC has failed to utilize the common participative systems that are deployed as safeguards within other UN processes. UNODC has lost the opportunity during the UNGASS review process to learn from people who use drugs and thereby our expertise and insights are not integrated.
Nonetheless we stand ready to engage with this process and take part and support member states in their search for effective drug policies
Public health and criminal justice approaches are not easy bed fellows. However, within the current system it is still possible to find an effective balance between the need to protect society from crime and the need to protect individual and public health. Many drug user groups are involved in practical partnership with law enforcement agencies including training for police officers, the management of anti-social behavior in local communities and policy discussions. However, when police forces and criminal justice systems follow the most extreme versions of drug policy, drug users are excluded as partners, services are made less accessible, and risk behavior increases.
The United Nations should be the guardian of human rights and all divisions of the United Nations should adhere to the inalienable rights set out United Nations Charter on Human Rights. This declaration is a beacon of hope to oppressed and marginalised peoples around the world. However, within the UN, concern is mounting about the human rights abuses against people who use drugs conducted and justified under in name of Drug Control. My community is routinely denied the human rights that this organisation was founded to defend. It is indefensible that a division of the UN does not pay sufficient attention to addressing policies that may cause breaches of human rights against people who produce, sell and buy illicit drugs. We, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, offer our hand in friendship and invite you to begin negotiations to bring to an end this failed war on drugs.'