For a European drug convention on promoting public health policy in drug control

From: “Council of Europe-Parliamentary Assembly” SOCIAL, HEALTH AND FAMILY AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Ladies and Gentleman of the Committee, it is a pleasure and an honour for me to intervene in this forum to support the draft report for a European drug convention on promoting public health policy in drug control. I commend the Council of Europe’s decision to consider this convention; it is an important step towards the promotion of more comprehensive policy to fight the stigma and the suffering caused by drugs and drug policy approaches.

I would like to highlight about the importance of bringing public health approaches to drug policy to the forefront on public policy. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement has recently taken important steps towards advocating and implementing humanitarian approaches to drug policy and I am confident that the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly can play a key role, through the draft convention.

Drugs are among the major sources of suffering in our society. This suffering does not stop at the small vulnerable group of drug users but it impacts on all sections of our society from the spread of diseases, violence among young people to poverty and destitution. Drug related suffering is not a marginal issue and has to be treated as strategic policy effort. This is true for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and it is true for institutions such as the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
After more than 50 years with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, I have never seen so much human suffering and stigmatization than in drugs. Sadly a big share of this suffering is caused as much by the repressive policies as by the substances themselves. This suffering does not stop at users only, it affects their immediate families and communities at large. The spread of AIDS is a sad indicator of the broad impact of drugs on our society.

The policies developed to tackle drug use too often contribute to make the situation worse. The use of violence against users has no rational basis. Violence engenders more violence and suffering, curtails human rights and ultimately affects the wider community. A sophisticated range of public health and social instruments are available to fight drug related suffering. It is not a problem of scientific knowledge or even of funding. Methadone is a very cheap and effective way for example. The problem lies in political dogma. That is why we now have to take our effort at the policy level. This is why we must mobilize our power of humanity and advocacy to fight on all fronts of drug-related suffering. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement has taken important steps to fight drug related suffering with humanitarian means.

The movement has acknowledged that stigma kills. Stigmatisation and lack of care for drug victims are unwise and destructive not only for the users themselves, but also for the communities in which they live. My experience as a doctor who has worked more than 30 years with drug users has shown me one thing: humanitarian care is the best way out of addiction and ultimately out of drug use.
Throughout the 20th century, The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, I am proud to say, showed a significant commitment and interest in the fight against drug related suffering. The most recent endeavour in this direction is The Rome Consensus for a Humanitarian Drug Policy, first adopted by 20 National Society of Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2005 and then endorsed by other 33 National Societies from Europe, The Middle East, Latin America, Central and South Asia in March 2007.

The Rome Consensus commits the strength of the Red Cross\Red Crescent Movement to actively encourage the formulation and implementation of a humanitarian drug policy that saves lives and alleviates human suffering with national governments and international institutions.

As well as the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, the Council of Europe can play a key role in fostering a drug policy that saves lives and actively promotes the right to health.

In fact, everywhere in the world, even in countries that uphold human rights, drug users are still denied basic citizen rights. Drug users are humiliated, bullied, discriminated and treated more as criminals than as sick people. Discrimination means that drug users are not given any chance to fight their addiction and that drugs end up affecting the society as whole through the spread of AIDS, violence and social misery.

The draft convention is an occasion to uphold and advocate for a real right to health for those whose rights are constantly denied. The draft convention acknowledges that public health approaches to drug treatment are efficient and effective to fight the stigma and the social cost of drug use. The draft convention also underlines the need to join efforts to help those countries, such as Central Asian and Eastern European countries in their battle against HIV/AIDS. Drug policy measures such as clean needle exchange are cost effective, right based weapons in this battle.

The draft convention also encourages exchanges and cooperation’s between Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, governments and other international organisations to discuss, adopt and implement policies aimed at upholding human rights, at fighting stigmatisation and marginalisation of the most deprived sectors of our communities and relieving human suffering.
The signatories of the Rome Consensus for a Humanitarian Drug Policy as representatives of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement support the draft report on the Convention and commend the Council of Europe’s assembly’s attempts to make drug policy a key human rights concern and strategic humanitarian issue.

Thank you very much for your attention.