'War on drugs' isn't working, doctors say
Provincial medical officials urge health-centred approach
BY DOUGLAS QUAN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 28, 2012
contrast with http://www.timescolonist.com/news/Defence+ministers+turn+guns+international+drug+cartels/6371268/story.html#ixzz1qc97p5J8
Three leading Canadian public-health physicians have added their voices to a growing campaign calling on the federal government to radically rethink its approach to the war on drugs.
In an article published Wednesday in the journal Open Medicine, the chief medical health officers for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia say the criminalization of drug users has proven to be "ineffective" and that mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences represent a "complete departure from evidence-based policy making."
The authors recommend shifting away from a law enforcement-centred drug policy to a health-centred approach that combines regulation and harm reduction.
"Let's use an evidence-based approach, not an ideological approach," said co-author Dr. Robert Strang, the chief public health officer for Nova Scotia, in an interview. "Clearly, what we're doing is not effective."
Continuing with the status quo will be costly, lead to bloated prisons and result in further unintended health consequences, including disease outbreaks among incarcerated drug users and violence among organized-crime groups, Strang said.
Strang wrote the paper along with Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Moira McKinnon, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, and Dr. Evan Wood, codirector of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/ AIDS.
The publication of the article comes a couple of weeks after the Conservatives passed their controversial omnibus crime bill, which, among other things, toughens penalties for certain drug offences and introduces mandatory minimum sentences.
The government has estimated that costs associated with the crime bill could reach about $80 million over five years.
Citing the example of the U.S., the authors write that aggressive law enforcement has failed to reduce the drug supply or drive up prices.
"Instead, in recent decades, the prices of the more commonly used illegal drugs (e.g., cannabis and cocaine) have actually gone down, while potency has risen dramatically," they said.
The claim that a health-based drug policy could lead to a rise in drug use is unfounded, the physicians say.
"A published review of the effects of decriminalization noted that this change was followed by 'reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding,' with rates of drug use remaining among the lowest in the European Union," they write.
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