Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Advocating drug policy change


Aids Alliance

Pavlo Skala, Policy and Advocacy Programme Manager for Alliance-Ukraine, spoke last month at the High Level Segment of the 52nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, as acting head of the Ukrainian delegation. Here we reproduce his speech arguing for policy change in controlling the supply of illegal drugs.

A rational approach to drug control

The anti-drugs legal framework in Ukraine, which was drawn up fourteen years ago, has in most cases not resolved problems with the trade in illicit drugs. Moreover, the goals of the Political Declaration at the 20th UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs have not been achieved.

We can conclude that using force and punishment as the main pillars of drug control strategy is not always unequivocally effective.

For a long time the law enforcement agencies in Ukraine protested against effective approaches including harm reduction and safeguarding of human rights, especially those of users, which seemed new at that time.

However, in the last five years significant and fairly liberal changes have been introduced into the drug legislation. Opioid substitution treatment with buprenorphine was introduced in 2004 and methadone in 2008. Today three thousand people are receiving the treatment.

Last year, there was a significant liberalisation of the legal regulations in regards to supply reduction – the state no longer has a monopoly on the supply of narcotic and psychotropic substances. Harm reduction has become a key element of Ukraine’s drug policy and was included in a new law on the supply of narcotic substances.

As the next step, I think we must look at decriminalising drug users.

We should use scientific methods to define the quantity of drugs a person must have to face legal consequences. We need to set a threshold that reflects the level of social unrest caused by the crime. There is no point in putting a person in prison for taking a single dose of drugs, as happened until recently in some countries, including Ukraine.

Apart from anything else, imprisoning such people is economically inefficient. In many EU countries, the maximum penalty for this sort of violation is a fine. This frees resources for fighting dangerous crimes, such as illegal drug trafficking and money laundering of funds gained through trafficking, and for uncovering underground drugs laboratories, which Ukrainian law enforcement bodies are encountering ever more often.

HIV/AIDS is one of the key issues that Ukraine faces today. The country has the fastest HIV growth rate in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This makes it especially important to decriminalise drug-dependent people and focus on countering organised drug business.

Pavlo Skala.