‘Reduce harm,protect drug users’

2018-10-23 06:01
Michel Kazatchkine, the commissioner of Global Commission on Drug Policy, addressing delegates at the drug policy conference.

Michel Kazatchkine, the commissioner of Global Commission on Drug Policy, addressing delegates at the drug policy conference.

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Delegates at the recent South African Drug Policy Week conference in Woodstock called for the national government to release the National Drug Master Plan before the end of the year.

The plan must align with the National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs, must prioritise the reduction of the harms associated with the use of drugs, and must promote and ensure the protection of the constitutional rights of all South Africans, the conference resolved.

Experts from around the world gathered at the Double Tree Hotel in Woodstock from Monday 8 to Friday 12 October to discuss how policy can translate into practise in the fight against drugs.

Delegates asserted that South Africa needs to build a national framework that makes it possible for a broad range of services, which have been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to start working together more effectively to serve their communities.

It was stated that the health sector, which has to deal with a rise in infections and the transmission of communicable diseases, must increase awareness and advocacy around health issues affecting people who use drugs.

The department must prioritise the inclusion of the World Health Organisation (WHO) package of HIV, HCV, STI and TB services for people who inject drugs, in relevant policy.

It also needs to increase access to sterile injecting equipment, increase access to agonist medications, specifically methadone, for opioid substitution therapy (OST), increase integration of and access to HCV services and immediately address the price and availability of methadone.

Delegates also called for an evidence-based and human rights-informed public health policy focused on the reduction of harm and protection of drug users.

This after the conference heard that the failure of the war on drugs, with its policies based on prohibition, has led to the unintended consequences of a black market internationally worth $360bn. The market has produced more drugs which are cheaper, stronger and more harmful to the users, while fuelling violence, crime, narco states and mass incarcerations throughout the world. Earlier in the conference, Michel Kazatchkine, the commissioner of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, dedicated his presentation to the late Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations. Kazatchkine said: “Move away from prohibition and move to legal regulation – just as we regulate everything, every substance and every behaviour that is of potential risk. We do not prohibit alcohol, tobacco, food preservatives, driving cars. We regulate what is risky and this is the government’s responsibility.”

It was reported that South Africa, even with some progress being made with the Constitutional Court ruling on the use of dagga in private spaces, there is still some reluctance in accepting harm reduction interventions, not only from the general public, but also some medical practitioners.

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