EHRA Position Paper on Drug Policy

Use of psychoactive substances can be observed at different stages of civilization development. Traditional use of drugs – for example, of coca leaves in South America or cannabis in the Middle East, – has been largely displaced by alcohol and tobacco as a result of the expansion of tobacco and alcohol companies. Nowadays people use psychoactive substances, including drugs, for various reasons – for some it can be an important part of socialization and recreation, for others drugs help to cope with trauma or stress. It is a mistake to believe that drugs are used only by dependent or mentally unstable people or criminals. Only a small proportion of people who use drugs are in fact addicted to them. However, the current international legislation and the laws of the CEECA countries ignore this fact and are based on the assumption that any drug use is extremely dangerous for health, leads to lack of control and dependence and can’t be considered a “normal behavior”.

We want to ensure that international and national drug policies reflect in the legal frameworks that:

  • People use drugs for various reasons, including for socialization or leisure purposes;
  • Drug use is not the evidence of mental illness or antisocial behavior in most cases;
  • Certain patterns of drug use carry health-related risks, and therefore drug policies should be based on harm reduction principles.

Drug use or drug addiction diagnosis should not be the grounds for deprivation or restriction of political, economic, social and cultural rights. Years of anti-drug policies implementation and criminalization have led to systematic violations of the rights of millions of people who use drugs, including their right to life. Women who use drugs are less likely than men to access essential health and social services and are more likely to experience violence. The groundless practice of deprivation of parental rights due to drug use is widespread in the region.  “Drug registry”, which is the registration of people who use drugs who have applied for treatment or brought to the attention of police, aggravates the vulnerability to discrimination and violence against people who use drugs in CEECA countries even further. The practice of drug registry leads to systematic disclosure of medical information and restriction of rights.

Our actions are aimed to ensure that the following measures are taken in the countries of CEECA:

  • Special measures to protect people who use drugs from systematic discrimination and violence;
  • Special measures to protect the data of people who use drugs, including their medical data; and
  • Drug registries should be abolished.

The use, possession and purchase of drugs should not be prosecuted under criminal or administrative law. This is inhumane and ineffective (as it doesn’t reduce drug use) and entails enormous social costs. Severe sanctions against some drugs have led to emergence of new, more dangerous psychoactive substances on the market. It’s already possible to apply “alternatives to coercive measures” approach in those countries where changing drug policy to decriminalization or legalization of drugs could take many years. This approach is based on referring people detained for drug-related crimes to counseling, treatment or social assistance programs before arrest or trial. This practice should be also applied to theft or other non-violent crimes committed due to drug use. It’s possible to reduce the social costs of drug use only by implementation of comprehensive social, harm reduction and treatment programs.

Our actions are aimed to ensure that the following measures are taken in the countries of CEECA:

  • Drug use, possession and purchase of drugs should no longer be a criminal or administrative crime;
  • Drug dependence should no longer be an aggravation but should be considered as a basis for social and medical care provision;
  • Alternatives to punishment for drug-related crimes should be introduced;
  • The funds currently allocated by the state for special security operations and prison detention should be reallocated to support harm reduction programs and other health and social care practices.

We support global networks and governments advocating for decriminalization, regulation of the drug market, and the sustainability and expansion of harm reduction programs. We consider it important for the CEECA region to participate in progressive global processes in the sphere of drug policy, and we support our national partners in their advocacy for the liberalization of drug policy and in organizing campaigns against violence, criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs.

Existing differences in national legislations do not allow to develop a common approach to drug policy reform for all CEECA countries, but in all means national approaches should be evidence-based, should prioritize health and social support over law enforcement measures  and should provide sufficient funding for harm reduction and drug treatment programs, including the opioid substitution treatment.  Today, new  practical approaches in drug policy are emerging – both at the country and at the municipal levels – and they can be adapted to the legislative, economic and institutional environment in the various countries of CEECA.

We are currently working in the following areas:

  • Drawing international attention to the issues of violence, criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs in CEECA;
  • Analysis of international best practices to develop the most promising human rights and health-based practices in the area of drug policy;
  • Technical support for civil society and the community of people who use drugs in the CEECA countries to adapt international experience to national and local conditions;
  • Analysis of national drug policy issues and providing our findings to decision-makers at the national and international levels;
  • Setting the global drug policy agenda so that international technical assistance programs are aimed at advocacy of decriminalization, alternatives to coercive sanctions and the protection of human rights of people who use drugs in CEECA.