Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy launched a new report titled, “Regulation: the responsible control of drugs” in Mexico City and New York. The report is available for download in multiple languages here. Commissioner, former Global Fund Executive Director, Professor Michel Kazatchkine, will be at the SA Drug Policy Week to discuss the work of the Global Commission. This report addresses the reality that over 250 million people around the world consume currently prohibited drugs. Prohibition greatly increases the risks of using these drugs, increases the global burden of disease and fuels a criminal economy. Accepting this reality and putting in place an effective regulatory strategy to manage it is part of a responsible, evidence-based approach that deals with the world as it is in contrast with ideologically driven and ultimately counterproductive attempts to create a “drug free world”.
The National Drug Master Plan, 2018-2022 has not been released yet. The draft plan was completed in 2017, it was sent to all the relevant departments for comment, and was due for ratification late 2017. Yet the document that informs South African Drug policy, and therefore has a significant impact on the lives of millions of South Africans, is nowhere to be seen.
This delay was predicted by Shaun Shelly and Simon Howell in their piece for the Global Drug Observatory. Shelly and Howell point out "In order to bring about meaningful change there will need to be a significant shift in the current dominant understanding of drugs. Only once the ‘war on drugs’ approach is exposed as a war on marginalised communities and a distraction from critical social issues are we likely to see a shift towards responses to drugs that do not perpetuate the subjugation of communities."
Although the signs of a progressive and rights-affirming plan were on the cards, until released by Parliament as an official document, things will not change significantly. As the authors say: "Unprecedented calls by the CDA Executive Committee for harm reduction to be included in the 2018-2022 plan and consultations with people who use drugs ahead of development may result in a more balanced and effective document and policy landscape. However, history has shown that the current drafts of the 2018-2022 Plan are likely to be compromised and rendered ineffective due to external influence and lack of political will."
As of yet we still don't know for certain what the new plan holds in store, but these delays seem to indicate that once again, the National Drug Master Plan is likely to be unduly influenced and ultimately ignored. Read more on the plan by clicking here.
A special performance of this award winning production will be held for drug policy influencers, Drug Policy Week delegates and invited guests on the Wednesday 25 January 2016 at the Hillbrow Theatre at 19h30.
E-mail Julie at email@example.com to book your tickets. Seats are limited and available on a first come, first serve basis.
Since 2014 a dynamic team of story-tellers, playwrights, theatre-makers, academics and researchers, set about exploring the increasing levels of Whoonga (low-grade heroin) use currently plaguing KZN communities. The result of the two year research/play-making process, is a powerful new theatre production titled ULWEMBU (isiZulu for Spider web) which will be having a short public run at the Hillbrow theatre.
Ulwembu, which has been described as ‘poignant’ and ‘essential’ viewing, affords local theatre audiences the opportunity to walk in the shoes of misunderstood others: be it people who use illicit drugs, dealers, police-officers, social-workers or families of people who use drugs.
Generally the attitudes we see to drug use, is that it has a catastrophic effect on our communities, yet our research (alongside global research) shows that systemically it is the catastrophic state of our communities that are driving the use of Whoonga. “Drug use is not the root problem, but the symptom and politically expedient and attractive target.” says Shaun Shelly, a research partner from UCT and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria and TB/HIV Care. Ulwembu reveals possible answers to some of the big questions we currently face around street level drug use in our country, through two years of in depth research at multiple scales.
Ulwembu is more than just a play, but an immersive social learning tool, that brings together diverse citizens and civil servants into a transformative and transgressive empathetic space. “If we want to respond to drugs humanely and comprehensively in South Africa” explains Dr. Dylan McGarry (co-writer/producer), “we need to first understand the interwoven and deeply connected nature of this problem. Our production strives to give this contentious issue, a more human face and perspective…. We call this form of theatre ‘Empatheatre’ in which we create an ‘amphitheater of empathy’ for all those involved.”
The play itself is very powerful, and it completely expanded the teams expectations with regards to the power of theatre to not only change perception, but actually inspire meaningful change: “With this production” urges Neil Coppen (co-writer/director), “we wanted to create an engrossing and visceral theatrical journey for audiences, allowing the power of the story and the characters escalating dilemmas, to reveal the many complexities and facets behind the crises.”
Ulwembu was recently awarded best script, best director (Coppen), best-led actress (Mthombeni) and best supporting actor (Ngubane) and best newcomer (Ngcebo) at the 2017 Durban Theatre Awards. The cast includes Mpume Mthombeni, Vumani Khumalo, Phumlani Ngubane, Ngcebo Cele, Sandile Nxumalo and Zenzo Msomi. Direction is by Neil Coppen, Design by Dylan McGarry, the script is co-written by the entire team.
For more information please visit the Ulwembu website: www.ulwembu.net
Other show times at the Hillbrow theatre and its surrounds include Tues 24th Jan 2017 @15:30,Wed 25th @ 10:30 & 19:30, Thurs 26th : 10:30 @ 13:30, Friday 27th 10:30 @ Rand Aid Association Tarentaal Village. 200 Modderfontein Avenue.
Ulwembu was initially funded by the Open Society Foundations and this performance has been made possible through the generous support of the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science,. Urban Futures Centre, Twist Theatre Development Project (Twist Durban), Think Theatre and the constant support of the Denis Hurley Centre and the Hillbrow Theatre (Outreach Foundation).
Africa and the "war on drugs"
The war on drugs has had many victims, most of whom are innocent, but what about the subjugation of entire nations? Or a whole continent? In a very eloquent piece from drug policy activist, public health policy analyst, founding member of Anyone's Child: Families for Safer Drugs Control in Kenya, Lugard Abila exposes the "secret" in the war on drugs. The post can be found on Transform's web page by clicking here.
He argues: "drugs have played not just a prominent role in the cultural, spiritual, and social development of African civilizations - there is a rich history demonstrating how the use of drugs illuminates the history of humanity and there is a long relationship between mankind and mind-altering substances on other continents too." Indeed this is true. This alone should indicate the futility of the war on drugs.
Abila continues to discuss the control conventions and their adoption in Africa. His argument is crucial. As Abila says: "The international drug control system was shaped at a time when African states focused on models of development which were propagated by European imperialism, scientific racism, concepts of moral responsibility and the legacy of colonial legislation. So while in the early 1950s African states were focused on developing their economies and societies, by the 1960s legal arrangements for drugs were inherited from the colonial powers by the newly independent states. Although drugs were originally not an issue, they have since been identified as a ‘development impediment’ for which prohibition is the only answer."
This is what I mean when I say we are perpetuating the colonial and imperial through the myth of the international. The article challenges us to critically examine these policies: "African states must define their will and initiate effective dialogue that challenges the prohibitionist stand and we must enact policies based on a harm–reduction and rights based approach in accordance to the Africa Charter article 20 (3) “All peoples shall have the right to the assistance of the State Parties to the present Charter in their liberation struggle against foreign domination, be it political, economic or cultural.”
I encourage you to read the full article.
Global State of Harm Reduction 2016
Harm Reduction International have released their Global State of Harm Reduction 2016 report. From their release: "This is the fifth report in the Global State series, which provides the most up-to-date picture of harm reduction policy and practice around the world.
The new data in this report shows a worrying slowdown in the provision of harm reduction services for people who use drugs, with no new countries introducing needle and syringe programmes since 2014.
Along with this, there has been a rise in injecting stimulant use across all regions of the world, and a dramatic increase in overdose deaths.
Harm reduction in prisons also remains vastly insufficient, with only a very small number of countries providing needle exchange or overdose training in at least one prison.
We would like to recognise the invaluable contribution of harm reduction advocates, networks and researchers, organisations of people who use drugs, activists, donors and multilateral agencies this year and throughout the life of this unique project. It is thanks to this collective effort that the Global State has become a key resource for so many in their work."
Despite the reported lack of growth, harm reduction is no longer considered as something "other countries" do, but is now an accepted and essential approach to counter the negative effects of punitive policies that increase the risks of using drugs. This is in no small way due to the work of Harm Reduction International who convene The Harm Reduction International Conferences - a biennial hub for our sector, that attracts over 1,000 international delegates.
The 2017 conference will be held in Montreal, Canada: https://www.hri.global/conference-2017
The IAS AIDS2016 conference is taking place in Durban next week (18 - 22 July). The Urban Futures Centre at Durban University of Technology (UFC@DUT), in partnership with TB/HIV Care Association, and with financial support from ARASA, have organised a networking zone for people who use drugs and harm reduction representatives and organisations to network and share ideas and experiences. There will also be harm reduction commodities available, including an NSP. For the conference-related harm reduction services, click here. A roadmap to PWUD, drug policy and harm reduction events can be down loaded in Excel or PDF version. Dr Tamlynn Fleetwood of the UFC@DUT has put together an excellent programme of events taking place at the PWUD Networking Zone. This can be downloaded here or on the images:
The UNGASS on Drugs is underway and South Africa has delivered two statements in the plenary sessions. The first (PDF download) was by the Minister of Police, Honourable Mr Nhleko, as head of the South African delegation, and the second (PDF Download) was by the Deputy Minster of Social Development, the Honourable Ms Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, on behalf of the African Union. Both these statements show a level of diplomacy in a difficult political landscape, and both are important if we want to try and predict the future of drug policy in South Africa. Which strutures, the security structures (with possible influence from trade-partners Russia and China) or the social development and health structures, will have the most influence on future policy, remains to be seen. Clearly the latest and previous statements by the Deputy Minister show the direction she would like to take - a direction that could result in a new National Drug Master Plan that aligns with our constitution, economic and development goals and the National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB and could significantly reduce the burden of illicit drug use on our most vulnerable and under-resourced communities. Despite the evidence that supports these progressive policies there is likely to be strong opposition from various sectors, including from communities who have largely accepted the narrative that drugs are the root of many of their social ills and the drivers of crime and gangsterism.
Click on the Read more link to see my analysis of the positions and some of the background and possible implications.
UNAIDS released a new report today (click on the image below left to download). While the report focuses on policy and interventions from an HIV perspective, the underlying message is clear: We need a new approach to ALL "illicit" drugs. The first of five policy recommendations highlights the failures of current policies by simply stating what the purpose of drug policy should be:
"THE OVERARCHING PURPOSE OF DRUG
CONTROL IS FIRST AND FOREMOST TO ENSURE THE HEALTH,
WELL-BEING AND SECURITY OF INDIVIDUALS, WHILE
RESPECTING THEIR AGENCY AND HUMAN RIGHTS AT ALL TIMES."
Read the press release below and by clicking READ MORE
GENEVA, 15 April 2016--Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, which will take place from 19 to 21 April in New York, United States of America, UNAIDS has released a new report entitled Do no harm: health, human rights and people who use drugs.
(TB/HIV Care Association (THCA) are proud to have contributed to this report through the provision of harm reduction services in three cities. The work of THCA consultant Dr Andrew Scheibe is also referenced in the report. We also acknowledge the role of our funders and other supporters in this pioneering work.)
I never thought I would be able to say that South Africa was driving drug policy reform. Today I am proud to say that our Deputy Minister of Social Development, HON. HENDRIETTA BOGOPANE-ZULU, stood in the face of strong opposition and made one of the most progressive statements heard at the plenary session of the 59th Commission on Narcotic Drugs. This follows her statement in a side event: Promoting health, human rights and development through a harm reduction approach. The plenary statement, made on behalf of the Africa Union, clearly calls for a human rights approach, embraces harm reduction and fully supports drug user networks as well as appropriate service in police stations, hospital and clinics. Below is the full statement which can also be downloaded here. Today I am truly proud to be South African!
STATEMENT BY HON. HENDRIETTA BOGOPANE-ZULU, DEPUTY MINISTER OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, SOUTH AFRICA, AND CHAIRPERSON OF THE FIRST AU SPECIALIZED TECHNICAL COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, POPULATION AND DRUG CONTROL TO THE COMMISSION ON NARCOTIC DRUGS (CND)
Your Excellency, Chairperson of the 59th Session of the CND,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Shamaa, Chairperson of the UNGASS Board,
Ladies and gentlemen
All Protocols Observed,
We wish to commend you, Chairperson, on the manner you are conducting I am representing the African Union as elected Chairperson of the Bureau of the First AU Specialised Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control, and former Chairperson of the 6th AU Conference of Ministers in Charge of Drug Control.
Chairperson, I can assure you that the policy organs of the AU have not only been active, but indeed proactive and forward looking in the area of drug control over the past 4 years, promoting a balanced and integrated approach to drug control. In 2012 the Conference of Ministers adopted the AU Plan of Action on Drug Control for the period 2013 to 2017, based on the 2009 UN Political Declaration and Plan of Action. The Ministers also adopted the African Common Position on Controlled Substances and Access to Pain Management Drugs, and both instruments were endorsed by the AU Executive Council in January 2013 and the heads of state in January respectively.
In accordance with its Plan of Action on Drug Control, which is due for review next year, the African Union emphasises evidence-based responses to drug control to its Member States in order to curb the health and social consequences that drugs cause. Respect for human rights in dealing with the issue of drugs, has been the departure point for the Ministers in Charge of Drug Control as well. For that reason, drug control is clustered alongside health and population matters in the AU Specialised Technical Committee, which also resonates with the African Union’s theme for this year, namely: 2016 the Year of Human Rights with particular reference to the rights of women.
Hence, in the Common African Position for the UNGASS, adopted by the STC Ministers of Health, Population and Drug Control in April 2015, the health approach to drug control is mentioned in six (6) of the ten (10) operative paragraphs. This Common Position reflects the AU Plan of Action, for instance its Output 2.4 in its Implementation Matrix, which requests Member States to have available, “Comprehensive, accessible, evidence-informed, ethical and human rights based drug use prevention, dependence treatment and after care services”;
Finally, I wish to underline the usefulness of a regional approach. In the case of the African Union, you can imagine that 54 countries are at different stages of developing their national drug strategies and legislation. You will also appreciate that Member States think differently about drugs. The advantage of the AU meetings is that the different approaches can be openly discussed. One Member State cannot prescribe to all the others. Most importantly, is that Member States wish to be seen to follow democratic approaches, to include those affected in decisions that concern them. I can attest to that strongly when it comes to the AU policy instruments on disability, for instance. In this regard, I would strongly support an approach where drug users form their own network to discuss their problems, that they have focal points in police stations and at hospitals with whom they can interact on their concerns and very importantly, that religious and traditional leaders be trained alongside criminal justice system professionals on among others, harm reduction approaches.
Your Excellencies, in conclusion then, the African Union wishes to see that the UNGASS Outcome Document contains a balanced and integrated approach to drug control pertaining to the roles of the criminal justice and health care systems; that human rights and the health approach be emphasised; that drug control approaches be harmonised and strengthened in different regions; and that the UNGASS have provisions that our people no longer need to die in pain or fear or helplessness.
In Conclusion, Member States should show their commitment by resourcing, establishing institutional, operational and legislative infrastructure, which will enable the implementation of a healthy, social, human rights and secure world.
I thank you.
The Russian-African Anti-Drug Dialogue: The potential for disaster and death
10 March 2016
By: Shaun Shelly
On the 8th and 9th of March 2016, South Africa hosted the Russia-Africa Anti-Drug Dialogue at the ICC in Durban. Here are some examples of press coverage: The Citizen, Independent On Line, TASS Russian News agency and the one intelligent piece of reporting on the dialogue by Kevin Bloom for the Daily Maverick.
Russia has some of the most harmful and punitive of all drug policies. Despite their “no tolerance” approach they have more injecting drug users than any other population, have some of the highest drug-user statistics in the world, have a totally ineffective substance use disorder treatment system that is in violation of basic human rights and have massive rates of HIV infection, all as a result of a refusal to implement evidence based policies. Why would Africa want to share experiences with Russia, and why would they even consider issuing a joint declaration of recommendations on international drug policy?
It should also be noted that while this event was made 'public' on the SAPS website, attempts by researchers and journalists to participate or observe this event were met with strong exclusionary processes including a complex accreditation process for registration.
I briefly describe the context of the event and then provide the evidence that shows that almost all of the 16 recommendations made in the draft declaration are counter-productive, ignore international evidence, ignore current drug policy evidence and if implemented would significantly increase the harms caused by drug use.
We will be adding the latest drug policy news here, as well as providing updates for the drug policy week.
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