Leading physicians call for decriminalization of minor drug offenses to combat addiction epidemic

The standard method of criminalizing drugs is actually harming public health, not improving it, leading physicians from around the world said last week, according to Reuters.

Countries such as Portugal and the CzechRepublic have demonstrated that decriminalizing non-violent acts such as possession and petty sale have produced significant health benefits and cost savings, according to a report by the Lancet and Baltimore-based JohnsHopkinsUniversity. This policy has not increased problem drug use, the report said, according to Reuters.

These findings come at a critical time, as the U.N. General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs in April, at which time it will reconsider the global approach to illicit drugs for the first time since 1998, according to the report.

Instead of prohibiting drugs and jailing users, the report's authors instead recommend an evidence-based approach focused on lowering drug-related harm by lessening the violence associated with it, as well as health risks, such as the spread of HIV and hepatitis through sharing needles, according to Reuters.

"Policies meant to prohibit or greatly suppress drugs present a paradox," the report said. "They are portrayed and defended vigorously by many policymakers as necessary to preserve public health and safety, and yet the evidence suggests that they have contributed directly and indirectly to lethal violence, communicable-disease transmission, discrimination, forced displacement, unnecessary physical pain and the undermining of people's right to health."

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