Reducing Harm Due to Drug Use Should be the Aim – Not War

Toronto formally endorses harm reduction on drug use

Dr. Wood said Toronto’s commitment is an important symbolic step that solidifies Toronto’s commitment to fighting drug addiction in more nuanced ways than a “war-on-drugs” stance. It’s one he hopes will create more dialogue about changing Canada’s strategy on a national level.

An alternative to the war on drugs

the punitive enforcement of drug policy becoming largely immune from meaningful scrutiny.14 A curiously self justifying logic now prevails in which the harms of prohibition—such as drug related organised crime and deaths from contaminated heroin—are conflated with the harms of drug use. These policy related harms then bolster the apparent menace of drugs and justify the continuation, or intensification, of prohibition. This has helped create a high level policy environment that routinely ignores or actively suppresses critical scientific engagement and is uniquely divorced from most public health and social policy norms, such as evaluation of interventions using established indicators of health and wellbeing.

‘War on drugs’ behind endless misery

From a scientific perspective, we must accept that law enforcement will never meaningfully reduce the flow of drugs. Economists know that the drug seizures we see over and over again as part of police photo ops have the perverse effect of making it that much more profitable for someone else to sell drugs. The laws of supply and demand have simply overwhelmed police efforts. With young people reporting that obtaining illicit drugs is easier than getting alcohol or tobacco, the situation could not get much worse.
Strong scientific evidence points to the effectiveness of alternative regulatory models established in Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland to counter the disastrous consequences of illicit drug use and drug policies.

The Cato Institute, a respected U.S. think tank, has released a report on alternative drug policies. Several years ago, Portugal parted ways with the U.S. and decriminalized all drugs so that resources could focus on prevention and treatment of drug use. The report shows Portugal’s policies have dramatically reduced HIV rates as drug addiction has been viewed as a health, rather than criminal justice, problem. In addition, Portugal now has the lowest rates of marijuana use in the European Union, with experts suggesting that the health focus has taken some of the glamour out of illegal drugs.