Hep C & the War on Drugs

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Hep Talk by Larry Buhl

The War on Common Sense

A new report advocates decriminalizing drug use to reduce Hep C

The so-called “war on drugs” is creating an epidemic of hepatitis C. That’s the finding of a new report by the Global Commission on Drug head-questionmarkPolicy, which finds that drug war policies have caused millions of needless infections, and notes that 10 million out of 16 million people globally who inject drugs have hep C.

The report, titled “The Negative Impact of the War on Drugs on Public Health: The Hidden Hepatitis C Epidemic,” was released in May in advance of the Second International Harm Reduction Conference, taking place in Vilnius, Lithuania. Nearby Eastern Europe and Central Asia are home to the fastest growing hepatitis C and HIV epidemics and are largely being driven by injection drug use.

The twenty-two world leaders on the commission condemned the drug war as a failure and recommended decriminalization of drug use and expansion of “proven, science-based solutions,” including sterile syringe access, safer injection facilities and prescription heroin programs.

The report provides evidence that, throughout the world, repressive drug law enforcement practices force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where the risk of hepatitis C and HIV spike.

“Hepatitis C has to be one of the most grossly miscalculated diseases by governments on the planet,” said Commissioner Michel Kazatchkine, in a prepared statement. Kazatchkine is the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “It is a disgrace that barely a handful of countries can actually show significant declines in new infections of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.”

In some of the countries with the harshest drug policies, over ninety percent of people who inject drugs are living with hepatitis C, with highest numbers reported in China (1.6 million people), the Russian Federation (1.3 million people) and the U.S. (1.5 million people).

“The war on drugs is a war on common sense,” said Commissioner Ruth Dreifuss, who is the former President of Switzerland. “Repressive drug policies are ineffective, violate basic human rights, generate violence and expose individuals and communities to unnecessary risks. The hepatitis C epidemic, totally preventable and curable, is yet another proof that the drug policy status quo has failed us all miserably.”
To lower the rate of hep C transmission worldwide, the report recommends that governments:

• Publicly acknowledge that strict law enforcement practices perpetuate the spread of hepatitis C and HIV.

• End criminalization and mass incarceration of people who use drugs.

• Redirect resources away from the war on drugs and into hepatitis C prevention and care for the most affected communities.

• Remove all restrictions on sterile injection equipment.

• Establish national hepatitis C strategies and action plans.

• Improve the quality and availability of information on hep C.

• Negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of new and existing meds.

The Global Commission also calls on the United Nations to take a leadership role in promoting and enforcing these recommended reforms.
This is the third report published by the Global Commission, which includes leaders such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (and chair of the Commission); Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana; Pavel Bem, former Mayor of Prague, member of the Parliament, Czech Republic; César Gaviria, former President of Colombia; Michel Kazatchkine, professor of medicine, former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and entrepreneur Richard Branson. Its first report, War on Drugs, was released in 2011, and boosted international debate about the urgent need for a paradigm shift on the global drug prohibition regime. The second report, The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS, was published in June 2012 in advance of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

Download the full report by logging on to:www.globalcommissionondrugs.org.

Larry Buhl is a radio news reporter, screenwriter, and novelist living in Los Angeles. His young adult novel, The Genius of Little Things, debuted in January 2013. His comic mystery novel, We’re Here to Help, will be available later in 2013.