There have been many individuals, organisations, NGO’s, etc, that have stood up, and indeed still do, for the civil and human rights of people who use drugs (PUD’s) many have made significant and positive change happen, many still fight to reduce the risks and harms to PUD’s under dangerous and destructive policy and procedure. Raising awareness of the stigmatising and discriminatory practices that serve no purpose other than to demonise an already vilified and vulnerable group.
In some countries illegal importing, exporting, sale, or possession of drugs constitute capital offences that can result in the death penalty. 33 countries and territories that retain death penalty for drug offences, including 13 in which the sentence is mandatory. These countries include, Afghanistan. Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, Thailand. United Arab Emirates, Syria, Vietnam. Even in the USA the United States Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Louisiana struck down capital punishment for crimes that do not result in the death of a victim, but left open the possibility for “offenses against the State” – including crimes such as “drug kingpin activity” including very large quantities or mixtures of heroin, cocaine, ecgonine, phencyclidine (PCP), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana, or methamphetamine.
In China and southeast Asia, PUD’s are detained compulsorily in government run centres tht declare they are there to enhance “treatment” or “rehabilitation”. There is no element of treatment or rehabilitation in these facilities and PUD’s are held without the due process protections and less rights than those locked in prisons, no access to legal repressentation, no right to appeal, and no judicial oversight of detention. Some are detained for years without ever receiving any form of evidence-based drug dependency treatment, in isolation cells, forced to work, and abused by those who should be there to provide care and support. Some forms of torture that are used in these centres incude electrical shocks and many in the care of these centres are sexually abused. There is no process to determine drug dependence either cinical or otherwise.
These centres also lock up the homeless, street children, and those living with mental illnesses. None of those who are held in these centres are given any kind of health care even in it’s most forms. There may be contact with health proffesionals but this is usually in the form of mandatory HIV testing, forced blood donations, scientific research, (mostly involuntarily) and a number of other inhumane practices.
Investigations into issues such as risk factors for HIV infection among injecting drug users (IDU), HIV prevalence, effectiveness of behavioural HIV/STI prevention interventions, and the efficacy of particular modalities of drug treatment have repeatedly shown that these practices are inhumane and unethical and yet these practices still continue. The practices are often described, by those who run the facilities as, training centres focusing on “physical exercise, education, information, and job training for PUD’s in the city” What is actually meant by this is that those in these centres are forced to work for at least 8 hours a day as labour therapy, they are forced to attend educational classes but denied any access to standard or recognised educational equipment, the educational content aimed at promoting the needs of the area they live in and not based on educational values or the needs of those being educated. Very basically, PUD’s and other vulnerable individuals who are held in these centres are treated worse than animals and isolated from the outside world. Completely with no civil of human rights and this treatment is indefinite spanning out years in most cases with a high number of those incarcerated dying under the conditions they are forced to live in. The surrounding communities support these ethics because it is easier to use detainees than it is to use someone who lives a ‘normal’ life when looking for employees or similar needs and it is also a lot cheaper therefore research and investigations into the running of these facilities is hard to achieve and access to the majority of them is impossible.
This and a number of other reasons make drug policy reform campaigning a matter of civil disobedience in areas where this kind of treatment is normal practice, and even in some more advanced countries. Campaigning for better programs and more humane practice in most areas is seen as controversial and can at times be dangerous to those who openly advocate for positive reform. This civil disobedience is also related to facilities such as drug consumption rooms, promotion of life saving medications, decriminalisation, equal rights for PUD’s and handing out clean equipment. Most of these actions have been carried out by passionate and dedicated individuals whose principles came before the risks they took when advocating or initiating programs that provided safer practices and safer environments for PUD”s.
It’s ironic really that in order to reduce the risks and harms of those who use substances you must put yourself at risk of harm in some cases, but for the greater good. It’s also ironic that despite this being seen as a form of civil disobedience, it is also based on insurmountable evidence that suggests, in fact proves, that the practice advocated for is the most effective, positive and productive way to address the issues in most communities and yet many communities stance is quite the opposite in content.
There is however a paradox that presents itself when looking at policy reform. From a political angle those in power must find a solution that reduces the harms to the majority of their constituents. And this can mean economical, financial, emotional, mental, physical, etc. Now by social design that has been manufactured for years, vulnerable groups within communities have been portrayed as being less productive and at times damaging to communities with regards to crime statistics, cost on health services and such, unemployment statistics, homelessness, etc. So when looking at policy reform in any arena there is a conflict of interests when making the decisions that would be of maximum benefit. and when looking at who would be more satisfied with the outcomes of such policies there is more reason to look at the outcomes in potential for votes rather than ethical, public health outcomes.
The need to look at policy objectively, looking at socio-cultural needs, societal influence, public health issues, cost effeectiveness, etc is long overdue but is also a problem that needs to be addressed in stages with both sides of the argument being critically assessed and dissected and this might also mean that there will be recognition on both sides that some draconian policies and procedures have caused more damage than good and this might be where the delay originates from with regards to looking at the overall cost of some of these policies. Based on the evidence presented at the beginning of this article there have been a number of human rights ignored with regards to policy and agenda that have resulted in the deaths of high numbers of PUD’s and members of other vulnerable groups within communities and this would have to be held accountable if realistically taking effective and evidence based policy into account.
There lies the paradox of those who are in a position to make the changes, but even the most ignorant of those in power must know that change must occur, and to delay it any longer simply gives more space to add to the long list of fatalities and other heinous crimes that, in content, by far excede and outnumber any other casualties of war and war crimes in the course of history. The war on drugs, a war on people, needs to end and it needs to end now.