In a joint statement released today, the International Network of People Who use Drugs, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Harm Reduction International, and over 300 organisations and individuals from all over the world, warn that punishment-led drug policies are compounding the health, economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless the international community ensures that the health and rights of people who use drugs are protected, the devastation will be unprecedented.
COVID-19 infection does not discriminate, but magnifies existing social, economic and political inequities. Global efforts to delay and contain the spread of COVID-19 will fail if the health of marginalised and vulnerable communities is not protected as an urgent priority. As a result of stigma and criminalisation people who use drugs face extraordinary barriers to accessing health care, and experience or endure higher rates of poverty, unemployment and homelessness as well as underlying health conditions.
The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has driven mass incarceration all over the world. According to the UN, at least 470,000 persons are incarcerated worldwide for drug use and possession only, while an additional 1.7 million people are incarcerated for other drug offences, many of which are non-violent. In the context of COVID-19 the public health dangers of overcrowding in prison and detention facilities are brought into sharp relief.