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Books - Drug Use and Human Rights:
Written by Norbert Gilmore   
Wednesday, 03 January 1996 00:00


This Article aims to analyze human rights as they relate to drug use. The initial presumptions of this analysis are: (1) contemporary drug use is, all too often, excessively risky and harmful, and many of these risks and harms can be lessened or avoided; (2) among the risks and harms is that drug users may be deprived of one or more of their rights, or the exercising of their rights may be jeopardized because of their drug use; (3) this situation is determined, to a large extent, by legal and policy responses aimed at controlling drug use and its risks and harms; and (4) these responses are often determined by how drug use is perceived and conceptualized which, unfortunately, is often incomplete, inaccurate, stigmatizing, and sometimes wrongfully discriminatory against drug users.24

The analysis involves examining the conceptualization of drug use, legal and policy responses aimed at controlling drug use and some of its risks and harms, and the impact of these responses on the opportunities of drug users to exercise their human rights, in particular, as this relates to their health. This last analysis involves an examination of four specific issues: (1) respect for the privacy of drug users; (2) relationships between the vulnerability to use drugs, to be harmed by using them, and the limited opportunities of drug users to exercise their human rights because of their drug use; (3) relationships between drug use and disability, including whether or not drug use can be considered a disabling condition; and (4) identification and classification of situations in which infringements of the rights of drug users are likely to occur.

These four issues have been selected for analysis for the following reasons. An analysis of privacy is salient to the analysis of drug use and human rights because government responses to drug use, in particular prohibitory ones, can conflict with, jeopardize, and intrude into the privacy of drug users and those suspected of using drugs. At one extreme, there is the question of whether or not drug use can be considered an autonomous, private behavior; at the other extreme, there are concerns such as the intrusiveness of drug testing 25 and search and seizure procedures. People who use drugs and people whose rights are infringed upon are often described as being "vulnerable," yet this term is rarely defined in a precise way. The vulnerability which underlies and predisposes one to drug use appears to be similar to that which underlies and predisposes one to abuses of human rights. The importance of addressing vulnerability is increasingly being appreciated. Reducing both the demand for drugs and the risks and harms from using drugs necessitates addressing the vulnerability of people to use drugs and to be harmed by using them, and is a central feature of harm reduction and emerging public health responses to drug use. Similarly, protecting and promoting respect for human rights involves addressing the vulnerability of people to abuses of their rights, including discrimination. One of the little studied consequences of drug use is that drug users can be disabled by their drug use. All too often, people who are disabled are unable to fully exercise their rights. When people are disabled because they are using drugs, or when people with disabilities use drugs, their opportunities to exercise their rights are limited even more. Finally, there are a variety of situations or circumstances when drug users are likely to be deprived of their rights, although there is very little documentation of such deprivations. 26 Many of these situations arise because of legal and public policy responses to drug use or because of pejorative public perceptions of drug use and drug users. Identifying and cataloging these situations and circumstances when the rights of drug users may be jeopardized or threatened provides an opportunity to raise concern and interest about them.


Our valuable member Norbert Gilmore has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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