UNODC urges drug dependence treatment, not punishment

27 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 last week.  "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.

Entitled "From coercion to cohesion: Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment", the paper was released simultaneously 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 discussion paper 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 no access to HIV prevention programmes, limited heath services and lack of access to antiretroviral treatment.

Panellists explored the role of public security and public health systems in implementing drug dependence treatment, which, as emphasized by UNODC, should be evidence-based and managed by public health professionals.  Drug treatment should promote the 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.

The discussion paper can be viewed at: