Open Letter From Advocates Urges U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs Not To Withdraw From Needle-Exchange Programs
More than 300 scientists, policy analysts, human rights and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups and advocates from 56 countries on Tuesday signed an open letter urging delegates attending next week's meeting of the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria, to "resist" U.S. pressure to withdraw from needle-exchange programs, Inter Press Service reports (de la Torre, Inter Press Service, 3/2). Of "particular concern" for those who signed the letter is a meeting reported to have taken place in November 2004 between Robert Charles, chief of the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which is a co-sponsor of UNAIDS. Following that meeting, Costa allegedly had "new ideas about omitting certain language from UNODC documents that specifically referred to syringe-exchange programs," according to Inter Press Service. The open letter states, "Strategies that attempt solely to achieve abstinence from drug use do not constitute an acceptable alternative to programs, such as syringe exchange, that help active drug users protect themselves from HIV/AIDS" (Inter Press Service, 3/2). "Silencing the United Nations on needle exchange is deadly diplomacy," Jonathan Cohen of Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS Program, one of the signatories of the letter, said, adding, "The United States should be encouraging proven HIV prevention strategies, not attacking them" (HRW release, 3/3).
A "growing opposition" to funding organizations that advocate needle-exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug users is forming among some Bush administration officials and Republican lawmakers, Inter Press Service reports (Inter Press Service, 3/2). The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that some congressional Republicans have been working to prevent federal funding from going to such groups, with Reps. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) leading the effort. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) last month in a memo to his political allies outlined a strategy seeking a ban on USAID grants going to any organizations that do not completely support President Bush's views on issues, including drug use. USAID policy already prohibits federal funding from going to needle-exchange efforts (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/28). Mike Trace, director of the not-for-profit International Drug Policy Consortium and former deputy director of British drug policy, said the United States is attempting to influence the way its donations to U.N. drug projects are being spent, the Scotsman reports. "They are saying they don't want money to go to any part of the world unless people sign up to neo-conservative moral values," Trace said, adding that the United States might "further pressure" delegates at the U.N. drug commission meeting next week, according to the Scotsman (Barrett, Scotsman, 3/1).
U.S. Drug Policy Coordinator Defends Bush Administration Policy
Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters on Thursday at a press conference in the U.S. embassy in London said that scientific studies of drug addiction do not support "harm reduction" policies such as needle exchange, the United Kingdom's Scotsman reports. "There is a serious issue about what are the measures that most effectively reduce harm, but the best thing is prevention, second is treatment and third is harm reduction, which is better than doing nothing," Walters said, adding, "I think we should not be caught up with silly semantics -- we all want to reduce the harm" (Barrett, Scotsman, 3/3). However, a September 2003 Human Rights Watch report on HIV prevention among injection drug users said that seven U.S. government-funded reports between 1991 and 1997 "found that syringe exchange reduced HIV transmission without increasing drug use" and that "no established medical, scientific or legal body to study the issue had concluded otherwise," according to a 2001 review of needle-exchange research (Inter Press Service, 3/2). Walters added that "cracking down" on supply and demand for illegal drugs is "a far more effective approach" than harm reduction and that "scarce resources" available for drug users should be used for treatment, according to the Scotsman (Scotsman, 3/3).