War on Drugs exposed as failure at world AIDS conference in Vienna

From http://www.drugsense.org



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #443 – Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Syndicated columnist Dan Gardner covers an event and provides a
historical background which has received little attention (the New
York Times did cover the story
http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v10/n583/a01.html ).

Mr. Gardner was recognized by the Drug Policy Alliance with the
Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement in the Field of Journalism
for the series at this link  http://www.mapinc.org/gardner.htm You
may read more of his columns at http://www.mapinc.org/author/Dan+Gardner

Please read and sign The Vienna Declaration at

Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jul 2010

Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)

Copyright: 2010 The Ottawa Citizen

Contact: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/letters.html

Author: Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen


It’s safe to assume most people have never heard of the “Vienna
Declaration.” And that simple fact helps explain why public policies
that fail — policies that do vastly more harm than good — can live
on despite overwhelming evidence of their failure.

The Vienna Declaration, published in the medical journal The Lancet,
is an official statement of the 18th International AIDS Conference,
which wraps up today in Vienna. Drafted by an international team of
public health experts, including Evan Wood of the University of
British Columbia, the Vienna Declaration seeks to “improve community
health and safety” by, in the words of the committee, “calling for
the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies.”

Please don’t stop reading. I promise this will not turn into another
of my rants about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition. I’ve
been writing variations on that theme for more than a decade now and
everyone knows I am a crazed extremist whose views are not to be
trusted by decent folk. I’ll spare you.

Instead, I will merely present a few sentences from the Vienna Declaration:

.  “The criminalization of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV
epidemic and has resulted in overwhelming health and social consequences.”

.  “There is no evidence that increasing the ferocity of law
enforcement meaningfully reduces the prevalence of drug use.”

.  “The evidence that law enforcement has failed to prevent the
availability of illegal drugs, in communities where there is demand,
is now unambiguous. Over the last several decades, (there has been) a
general pattern of falling drug prices and increasing drug purity —
despite massive investments in drug law enforcement.”

.  (Existing policies have produced) “a massive illicit market. …
These profits remain entirely outside the control of government. They
fuel crime, violence and corruption in countless urban communities
and have destabilized entire countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and

.  “Billions of tax dollars (have been) wasted on a ‘war on drugs’
approach …”

.  Governments should “undertake a transparent review of the
effectiveness of current drug policies.”

.  “A full policy reorientation is needed.”

Remarkable, isn’t it? It’s exactly what this crazed extremist has
been saying for more than a decade and yet the people who wrote and
signed it are anything but crazed extremists. Among them is a long
list of esteemed public health experts, including the president of
the International AIDS Society, the executive director of the Global
Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and Canada’s own Dr. James
Orbinski. There are former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, and
Colombia. And there are several Nobel laureates, including the
economist Vernon Smith. (See the full list of signatories, along with
the statement, at viennadeclaration.com).

This should be big news. Drug policies affect everything from the
local street corner to the war in Afghanistan — and here is a long
list of informed and eminent people who agree what we are currently
doing is a horrifying mistake that wastes money and takes lives. The
public should be alarmed.

But this is not big news. And the public is not alarmed. In fact,
most of the public has never heard of the Vienna Declaration. Why not?

To answer that, let me take you way back to Sept. 5, 1989. That
evening, U.S. president George H.W. Bush made a televised national
address. Holding up a bag labelled “evidence,” Bush explained that
this was crack seized at the park across the street from the White
House. Crack is everywhere, he said. It’s an epidemic. Bush vowed
“victory over drugs.”

The whole thing was a fraud. Federal agents had tried to find someone
selling drugs in the park but couldn’t. Posing as customers, they
called a drug dealer and asked him to come to the park. “Where the
(expletive) is the White House?” the dealer said. So the police gave
him directions.

This chicanery was exposed not long after but it didn’t matter.
Bush’s address was a smash. The media bombarded the public with
hysterical stories about the “crack epidemic.” Popular concern
soared. And “all this occurred while nearly every index of drug use
was dropping,” noted sociologists Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine.

The power to throw the switch on media coverage isn’t exclusive to
the White House, of course. In 1998, the United Nations convened a
General Assembly Special Session which brought leaders from all over
the world to discuss illicit drugs. The media deluged the public with
stories about drugs — and the UN’s official goal, signed at the end
of the assembly by all member states, of “eliminating or
significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the
cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008.”

Time passed. The Special Assembly was forgotten. When 2008 rolled
around, cocaine output had increased 20 per cent and opium production
had doubled. But this spectacular failure was almost completely
ignored in the media. Why? The UN stayed mum. So did national
governments. With no major institutions putting the subject on the
agenda, the media ignored it.

This is the essential problem: If governments talk about drugs,
journalists talk about drugs; if they don’t, we don’t. And since
governments are full of people whose budgets, salaries, and careers
depend on the status quo, they talk about drugs when doing so is good
for the status quo, but they are silent as mimes when it’s not. Thus
the media become the unwitting propaganda arm of the status quo.

I’m not sure what it will take to change this. It would certainly
help if the media would stop letting governments decide what is news
and what is not. Even better would be leaders with the courage to put
evidence ahead of cheap politics, entrenched thinking, and vested interests.

But that’s not happening. And so, on Monday, the government of Canada
felt free to categorically reject the Vienna Declaration because it
is “inconsistent” with its policies — policies which have never been
subjected to evidence-based evaluation and would surely be condemned
if they were.

This is how failure lives on.


One response to “War on Drugs exposed as failure at world AIDS conference in Vienna

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