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To reduce risks is to legalize

06 - - 2000 dans Action 68

In April 2000, on the island of Jersey, the 11th international conference on the reduction of risks from drug use never stopped turning in circles around the obstacle of prohibition.

On the one hand, we observed the muddled thinking of representatives from the North, incapable of agreeing on terms and objectives : the concept of " risk reduction " has been so overused that today it no longer means much of anything. For some it means needle exchange programs ; for others, medicalization of drug use by substitution ; collaboration with " demand reduction " programs among those who accept requests from the United Nations Drug Control Program (PNUCID) ; even prison itself which, according to some American observers, represents in certain circles a " social " form of " risk reduction ".

On the other hand, we saw the impatience of countries of the South, caught between a galloping epidemic and the pressure exerted by International Agreements to impose eradication of " drug plant " cultivation and repression of traditional forms of drug use. We saw the search for clear guarantees in order to be able to impose programs other than repression : " Asia cannot wait another 10 years for us to finish arguing " ; " we have to come up with clear positions if we are to convince our states ". In addition, surprise and skepticism : "why this return to the big stick in western countries ; " why are you again changing back from risk reduction to control ? ".

The response to this question is basically very simple. It came in Jersey from an English participant : " in Great Britain, the idea of risk reduction seemed at first to develop in an ’easy’ environment, but we had underestimated the political context ". In other words, we had underestimated the preference for repression. While for certain people the AIDS epidemic seems to be nearly halted among drug users in western countries, it is because they are not yet aware of the hepatitis C epidemic and the accompanying short-term risks of HIV-HCV-HBV coinfection. The situation remains dramatic.

In France, among users who participate in needle exchange programs, 25% of them are infected with the AIDS virus, 70% by the hepatitis B virus and 30% by the hepatitis C virus, given that 50% have double or triple infections with HIV, HBV and HCV. In 1997, 85,500 people were questioned about narcotics laws offenses, 27,500 people were convicted, 700 were incarcerated for a principal offense of use ; sick individuals cannot get care in prison, infections are frequent because hypodermic needles are not available ; foreigners with HIV/AIDS having completed their sentences are " placed under house arrest " upon their release, hampered in their right to move freely and deprived of the most basic rights : documentation, a job, a decent income. While " treating " on the one hand, the system continues to repress on the other hand and continues to jeopardize the health of users. Risk reduction has never really been an alternative to repression, but has always followed it, while failing to repair the damage it leaves behind. Risk reduction programs are reaching their limits : the " war on drugs " makes their life impossible.

Since 1970, during thirty years of increasingly violent and pernicious repression, drug prohibition in France has only succeeded in throwing users in jail, provoking the spread of epidemics and worsening social disorders. The approach of " risk reduction ", born with the AIDS epidemic has given us fifteen years of acrobatics as it attempted to reconcile care and repression, and has clearly proved its inability to make durable, satisfactory improvements in the lives of drug users. Refusal to recognize the medical and social consequences of repression eventually leads to turning in circles. The only way to reduce the risks related to drug use today is to move on to controlled legalization of drugs, of all drugs.

To reduce risks today :

- is to release incarcerated drug users, remove them from an environment where degradation of their state of health is equivalent to inflicting on them an additional, but unacknowledged sentence,

- is to control the quality of the " drugs " on the market, to stop their being cut with additives that threaten users’ health, force them to take overdoses or mix different substances, and multiply the risks of losing control of the effects and consumption of drugs,

- is to create conditions that make it possible to master one’s consumption, by diffusing clear, trustworthy information, by allowing users to express themselves, and by encouraging indispensable exchanges of experience and information,

- is to develop real means of doing research on drugs now considered illegal : communicate their real effects without exaggerating their dangers, study their interactions with medications, include drug users in treatment trials while taking their practices into account.

To reduce risks today means admitting the reality of drugs, their use and the stakes involved, rather than continuing to pretend to eradicate them. It means helping with the development of the practical mastery of drugs rather than preventing their use. It means inspecting and guaranteeing the quality of products rather than demonizing them.

The duty of states today is to legalize drugs, all drugs.

Act Up-Paris demands that the French Government repeals the law of 1970 that represses their consumption, and the legalization of all drugs in order to allow their use with mastery and less risk.

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