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AIDS Conference 2010

UNODC Urges Drug Dependence Treatment, Not Punishment

Vienna (Austria), 22 July 2010 - Drug dependence is a health disorder, and drug users need humane and effective treatment - not punishment. This was the key message of a UNODC discussion paper launched at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna today. "Let us stop stigmatizing the users. Give them high-quality medical treatment, counselling and follow-up, not detention," said Gilberto Gerra, Chief of the Drug Prevention and Health Branch at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Entitled - From coercion to cohesion: Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment, the paper was released in conjunction with the re-launch of the Open Society Institute's (OSI) 2010 report, Detention as Treatment: Detention of methamphetamine users in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

The UNODC report highlights that the practice of putting drug users in compulsory detention centres and in prisons is on the increase and notes that such settings can often breed human rights violations, including forced labour and violence, in contravention of internationally recommended approaches.

HIV prevalence among detained persons is often higher than in the general population due to factors including the use of non-sterile drug equipment by injecting users. In addition, there is often an absence of HIV prevention programmes, limited heath services and lack of access to antiretroviral treatment.

The launch session of the paper "From coercion to cohesion" was moderated by Christian Kroll, Global Coordinator for HIV and AIDS at UNODC. Speakers included, Gilberto Gerra; Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health; Rebecca Schleiffer, Advocacy Director, Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch; and Daniel Wolfe, Director of International Harm Reduction Development at OSI.

The panellists explored the role of public security and public health systems in implementing drug dependence treatment, which, according to UNODC, should be evidence-based and managed by public health professionals. Treatment should promote prevention of HIV and respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Voluntary, community-based drug dependence treatment services are more likely to attract those drug users who need treatment, and would save money, states the paper.

UNODC is the lead agency within UNAIDS for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for injecting drug users and in prison settings.