A former police officer has said a call by the XVIII International AIDS Conference to end the global war on drugs is a major step toward saving lives around the world.
Tony Smith, a retired 28-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, was referring to the Vienna Declaration, the official statement coming out of this year’s biennial meeting of HIV/AIDS experts, which wraps up in Austria on Friday (July 23).
Smith is a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international group of current and former police officers and members of the legal community that advocates for the decriminalization of drugs.
“It’s becoming more and more clearly spelled out each time any serious research is done that our approach to date has been entirely counterproductive,” Smith told the Straight in a phone interview. “This [declaration] spells it out very clearly that it’s not just the problem with the drugs. It’s also fuelling the AIDS epidemic.”
The Vienna Declaration calls for evidence-based drug policies, while noting that “drug law enforcement has failed to achieve its stated objectives.” It also states that the “criminalisation of people who use illicit drugs” has contributed to the HIV/AIDS problem in the world.
“It is a worldwide declaration of the connection between violence, disease, and prolonging people’s inability to get on with life due to not helping them,” Smith said. LEAP has endorsed the declaration.
Thousands of people and organizations have signed the document, which was drafted by a team that included four experts from B.C. These are: Evan Wood and Thomas Kerr, directors of the Urban Health Research Initiative; Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and president of the International AIDS Society; and Dan Werb, a research associate with the centre.
According to the Vienna Declaration, the war on drugs has led to the “undermining of public health systems” because “law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of infectious disease transmission (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C & B, and tuberculosis) and other harms is increased.” The statement calls for more harm-reduction and treatment programs.