Drug Users Are People – Not Just Collateral Damage in the War on Drugs!

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
Report on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, June 2011

Australians might be surprised to know who has made the above statement. It is not, as so often characterised, a group a ‘radical drug law reformers’ who want to make it easier for our kids to use drugs. It is, in fact, a group of eminent, highly respected individuals that includes ex-Presidents and ex-Prime Ministers, the former UN General Secretary Kofi Anan, ex-US Secretary of State George Schultz, bankers, writers, activists, UN special rapporteurs and business people like Sir Richard Branson among the Commissioners.

“So why is it, 2 years after such a conclusive, far-reaching and damaging report about the impact of the current “war on drugs” approach on the lives, health and rights of some of the most marginalised people in our community do we continue to see a total failure to act?” asks Annie Madden, Executive Officer of the Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL).

AIVL, the national organisation representing people who use or have used illicit drugs, is seeking to raise both the quantity and quality of the debate in Australian society about the negative impact of prohibition and the ‘war on drugs’ in the lead-up to International Remembrance Day 2013 on 21 July. International Remembrance Day was originally founded 16 years ago by parents and other supporters in Germany who were calling for more liberal drug policies and critical harm reduction services such as heroin prescription and opioid substitution treatment.  In 2013, drug user organisations, family and parent groups from over 70 cities worldwide are organising events together with the overall motto of ending the harm from the ‘war on drugs’ and remembering loved ones.

“On International Remembrance Day we want to highlight just how much harm our current approach to dealing with illicit drugs in society is causing for individuals, families and communities across Australia. Most Australians are probably unaware of the real impact of our drug laws such as the fact that the vast majority of all illicit drug arrests are for minor drug offences. That many of these arrests result in convictions that ruin young people lives because of criminal records that follow them forever. Drug related overdose deaths are once again on the increase with deaths set to rival the national road toll (again) in the near future. We have a hepatitis C epidemic that is quite literally out of control with over 300,000 people in Australia already exposed, the vast majority of whom are people who inject or have injected illicit drugs. Not to mention how little we seem to know or care about the dozens of Australians who have already been executed and those who are currently facing the death penalty or commuted life sentences in overseas prisons for drug offences” declared Ms Madden.

“If we are willing to set aside the hateful and harmful stereotypes and attitudes towards people who use illicit drugs which all too often succeed in dividing us and refuse to accept what we are told to think about people who use drugs, we can find a more balanced, tolerant and humanitarian approach. We need to ask ourselves as a community whether we really think that leaving people to contract serious, life-threatening diseases, die alone from a drug-related overdose or being put to death is really the best we’re capable of when it comes to responding to illicit drug use in society.”