This week in Vienna, over 300 NGOs from around the world, including Harm Reduction International, are meeting for 'Beyond 2008 - A Global Forum on the 1998-2008 Review of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Illicit Drugs'. The purpose of the Forum is to develop recommendations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as part of the ongoing UN review process on drug policy that will conclude in 2009. The meeting is taking place at the Vienna UN headquarters.
Day 1 opened with reports from nine regional NGO consultations that took place leading up to this week's Forum in Vienna. Harm reduction received support from NGOs in all regions. Support for harm reduction and the need for expanded access to harm reduction interventions was highlighted in the reports from Australia/New Zealand, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, North America, South Asia/East Asia/Pacific and Western Europe. The need to prioritise human rights in responding to drugs was also emphasised in a number of these regional reports.
Many of the regions also highlighted concerns that a focus on supply reduction and enforcement in national and international drug policy has produced unintended negative consequences, including barriers to implementing harm reduction programmes and an imbalance in funding between enforcement approaches and health-based approaches.
The only opposition to harm reduction came from the section of the North American regional consultation held in the United States, which was organised by the Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF) in its home town of St. Petersburg, Florida. Feedback from this consultation included criticism of the Insite Safer Injecting Facility in Vancouver, an incorrect claim that needle exchange programmes violate the UN drug conventions and a call for increased drug testing of students. If you think we're exaggerating please read the written report of the DFAF-sponsored consultation. Be sure to check out the first bullet point under Activity 4 on page 9 criticising the failure to hold UNAIDS and WHO accountable for violating US policy by supporting needle exchange! (Honestly, we don't make this stuff up!)
Perhaps the opposition to harm reduction emerging from the DFAF-sponsored consultation is not surprising given the group's public stance on harm reduction. As stated on the DFAF website, 'Harm promotion, dubbed harm reduction, is a flawed notion proponents of the drug legalization movement use as a tactic to normalize drug use, claiming it is inevitable...Harm reduction is actually harm promotion because it asks society to accept drug use by adults and youth, alleging that drugs can be used safely and responsibly.'