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Drug Control Efforts Should Focus More On Health

Drug control efforts should focus more on health than crime, says UN official

10 March 2008 - The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has urged measures to address the "image problem" of global drug control efforts, which he says tend to focus more on the criminality of the problem and not enough on health-related issues.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the 51st session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs - the central policy-making body within the UN system dealing with illicit drugs and the governing body for UNODC's drugs-related work - that it is time to move beyond just containing the problem and move forward in the fight against drug abuse.

"Drug control has an image problem: too much drug-related crime; too many people in prisons, and too few in health services; too few resources for prevention treatment, and rehabilitation; too much eradication of drug crop, and not enough eradication of poverty," he said in his address to the gathering in Vienna.

He pointed out several successes of global anti-narcotics efforts, including the fact that illicit drug use has been contained to less than 5 per cent of the world's adult population, as opposed to 5 to 6 times this amount for those addicted to tobacco or alcohol.

Also, global drug cultivation has been slashed - with the exception of Afghanistan - and adherence to the international drug control regime is practically universal, he added.

In moving past just the criminal aspect of the problem, Mr. Costa underscored the need for a stronger focus on health. "Scientific evidence shows that drug addiction is an illness that can and must be treated. There are no ideological debates about curing cancer or diabetes; left and right are not divided on the need for treating tuberculosis or HIV. So why are there political contrapositions about drugs?"

First and foremost, countries must prevent and treat drug abuse, he stressed. In addition, more funding is crucial for development projects to give farmers alternative livelihoods rather than growing cannabis, coca and opium, he said, adding that "the eradication of poverty must go hand-in-hand with the eradication of drug crops."

Calling for grass-roots efforts to help fight drug abuse, he urged civil society and the media "to promote consumer boycotts against the fashion houses, recording companies, and sport enterprises that hire celebrities proud, rather than shameful, of their addiction."


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