Drug Addiction: A is for Abstinence PDF Print E-mail
The shaping of policy at UNODC (2002-2010)

Posted: 17 July 2008

I have been arguing for some time, based on evidence from the World Drug Report, that the world drug problem is stabilizing. But containing the problem does not go far enough. If we are to reduce the number of people who are dependent on drugs, then more attention must be paid to drug prevention and treatment.

That means adopting a drug control policy that puts health first. After all, health is the first principle of drug control.

I am not just talking about band aid solutions that address symptoms rather than causes. What is needed is a comprehensive range of measures, from abstinence and prevention, to treatment, and reducing the health and social consequences of drug abuse: a continuum of care properly financed, and part of mainstream health and social services.

The HIV/AIDS campaign is based on the A-B-C principle, with A standing for Abstinence. We need similar principles for drug-related programs, stretching from A to Z (or whatever you may wish), assigning however the same meaning to A. 

Governments, international institutions and concerned citizens should not shy away from proclaiming the importance of avoiding drugs. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening in so many societies:  while tobacco smokers are ostracized, it is those who do not take drugs that are marginalized.  What about standing by their side?  What about proclaiming loud and clear the virtue of drug abstinence?

Something else. Some of the (implicit) messages I hear are startling:  take drugs if you so wish, and we teach you how to reduce the damage they cause.  This is not only counter-intuitive:  it is plainly wrong.  Harm reduction, on its own, is necessary, but not sufficient. If not integrated into more complex drug control processes that start with abstinence and treatment, harm reduction only perpetuates drug use.  Would you tell an obese friend:  have more sweets my dear, then get an insulin shot?  I don't think so. So let's be evidence based, and coherent when it comes to drug control.

This is the message that I made at the recent NGO Forum called Beyond 2008, particularly to leaders of the harm reduction movement, in an effort to follow a more balanced drug control policy. It is a message that I will repeat again and again until more attention and resources are given to reducing demand for drugs. Let's steer people away from drugs, not only help them once they become addicted. 


Last Updated on Thursday, 20 January 2011 11:11