KUALA LUMPUR: Governments can tackle drug addiction more effectively by reducing harm to addicts than by punishing them, says an advocacy group.
Programmes such as needle exchanges would be more cost-effective and sustainable, says Giada Girelli, a senior analyst with Harm Reduction International, which promotes safer drug policies.
She said studies have shown about US$100 billion is spent on drug enforcement policies worldwide while the amount spent on harm reduction was just US$125 million.
“Globally we spend more than 750 times on punitive drug control than we do on life-saving and harm reduction services,” she said.
Research has shown that the cost of placing drug users in detention centres was 2.5 times more than providing a year of opiate substitution therapy.
Despite years of enforcement, punitive policies had failed to reduce drug use and trade. “Fifty years after the first international drug control convention, the global prevalence of drug use and drug dependency has been roughly stable,” she said.
Safer drug policies would reduce the spread of diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, helping both the user and the community.
Girelli was speaking at a conference organised by the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network.
She said it was difficult to establish a link between the use of the death penalty and lower drug use, but was confident there was no positive correlation.
Girelli said punitive policies have enabled the widespread violations of fundamental human rights, such as extrajudicial killings. She said about 20,000 such killings have been confirmed in the Philippines over the past six years.
The “war on drugs” approach has resulted in disproportionate incarceration rates, with one in five people, or one out of every three women globally, being incarcerated for minor drug offences.