Drug policies should be based on health and not on punishment, says UNODC at International Symposium on Drugs

Gilberto Gerra
Gerra speaks at the Symposium

Brasilia, 11 September 2013 - "Disorders related to drug use should be recognized as health problems and treated like any other disease," said the Chief of the Drug Prevention and Health Branch at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Dr. Gilberto Gerra, during the International Symposium on Drugs: From Coercion to Cohesion, held this week at the National Museum of the Republic, in the Brazilian capital.

On Tuesday morning Gerra participated in the first round of discussions of the Symposium, in which he presented scientific evidence on the effectiveness of drug policies based on health, not on punishment. In addition, he stressed that it is essential to recognize vulnerability conditions and end discrimination and stigma associated with drug users.

Referring to the international drug conventions of which UNODC is the guardian, Gerra noted that drug users should not be punished or detained and, when they commit crimes, they should have the option of treatment as an alternative to prison. Treatment for drug addiction should be voluntary, evidence-base, and confidential, and with informed consent: "Medical ethics do not allow treatment without the patient's consent", said Gerra.

According to him, the treatment without the consent of drug users should be only a short-term emergency measure, not exceeding a few days, and applied only in cases of acute intoxication or when the individual may endanger his/her own safety or that of others. "Long-term treatment without consent is expensive and unnecessary. We need affordable and humane treatment in the communities", he added.

Gerra is co-author of the document From coercion to cohesion - Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment , published by UNODC in 2010, which served as the basis for the organization of the Symposium.

Brazilian authorities and international organizations at the opening

During the opening of the Symposium on Monday evening, the Representative of the UNODC Liaison and Partnership Office in Brazil, Rafael Franzini, said: "What we are trying to do here is to reinforce positive experiences, change courses towards better practices and, above all, put the citizen at the heart of the matter".

Simpósio Internacional sobre Drogas
Franzini (left) speaks at the opening of the Symposium, next to Magalhães (middle) and Maximiano (right)

Referring to the UNODC document that gives its name to the Symposium, he continued: "From coercion to cohesion is about this: recognizing the situations of vulnerability in which individuals live, their problems and their circumstances, and giving them a human response, alleviating their condition rather than aggravating it. That is why social cohesion, and not police coercion. Because the drug dependent is subject of the right to health, not criminal law."

Besides Franzini, representatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Ministries of Health, Justice, Culture, and Social Development and Combat Against Hunger also attended the opening.

The National Secretary for Drug Policy, Vitore Maximiano, highlighted the diversity and experience of the Symposium panelists: "This is a space for an absolutely qualified debate. We have much to learn from these fundamental contributions, which are crucial for us to have a civic policy that looks at those who really make abusive use of drugs, and who deserve so much to be in the view of the Brazilian state. "

The Secretary of Health Care, Helvécio Magalhães, sees the Symposium as an important space for debate: "This is an excellent opportunity for us to grow and to discuss policies for the care of people with drug dependence. To face drug-related problems is a commitment of the government as a whole, not only of the health sector, but of all those involved. "


On Tuesday afternoon there were two rounds of discussions, on "Drugs, economics and social exclusion" and "International innovations on drug policy: pragmatism and law", with the participation of the former Secretary of Policies on Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco of the Netherlands, Eddy Engelsmen, and the National Secretary of Drugs of the Presidency of the Republic of Uruguay, Julio Calzada, among other guests.

Over 400 people participated in the Symposium

The Symposium ended today after a discussion on the media's role in disseminating information about drug issues and a debate on "Human Rights, cities and drugs", which featured panelists from Canada, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Tomorrow there will be a post-Symposium activity, in which UNODC will present and discuss the international standards for actions to prevent drug use, launched at the last Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March.

Held from 9 to 11 September with more than 400 participants, the Symposium was promoted by the Ministry of Health, through the Technical Department of Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs (Secretariat for Health Care), the Department of STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (Secretariat of Health Surveillance); by the Ministry of Justice, through the National Secretariat on Drugs Policies (SENAD); by UNODC and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in partnership with the International Consortium for Drug Policy (IDPC) and the Igarapé Institute.

Related information:

From Coercion to Cohesion - Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment (in English, Spanish and Portuguese)

International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (in English and Portuguese)

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