Global Healthcare Leader BMJ Calls for Drug Policy Reform

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Global Healthcare Leader BMJ Calls for Drug Policy Reform

According to their website, BMJ is an organization that “advances healthcare worldwide by sharing knowledge and expertise to improve experiences and outcomes.”

A recently published online editorial calls the “war on drugs” a failure, and states that doctors and healthcare professionals, among others, should champion drug policy reform. According to the article, one-quarter of a billion adults (or 1 in 20 worldwide) consumed an illegal drug in 2014, risking harm.

The response to widespread drug use several decades ago became popularly known as the “war on drugs.” So far, three U.N. treaties, the oldest reaching back to 1961, have sought to “advance the health and welfare of mankind” by prohibiting the recreational use of many drugs. The result was countries criminalizing manufacturers, traffickers, dealers, and users. The cost is an estimated $100 billion.

But as per the author, “too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs, and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women.” And that “prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services.”

The article goes on to refer to the manner in which the ideological goals of medical practice have negatively affected addiction treatment. The author cites the example of opioid-addicted patients in Crimea who died after the Russian invasion, because they were forced to stop using methadone.

There’s also a lot of hypocrisy in world drug policies, which somehow deny 2/3 of the world’s legitimate pain-relief seeking patients access to opioids, yet However, block research into medical marijuana, as well as other prohibited substances which the potential for medical benefit.

There have been numerous calls for drug policy reform, however, from massive agencies such as the World Health Organization. Some countries, such as Portugal, have begun to lift criminal penalties for individual drug use and replaced them instead with civil penalties and health care/addiction treatment.

As another example, the UK Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 continues to criminalize manufacturing, trafficking, and sales of illegal drugs, but lifts sanctions on the personal use of these substances. Areas in Canada and several U.S. states have now legalized and allowed for regulated recreational marijuana use.

Per the editorial:

“This year a thorough review of the international evidence concluded that governments should decriminalise minor drug offences, strengthen health and social sector approaches, move cautiously towards regulated drug markets where possible, and scientifically evaluate the outcomes to build pragmatic and rational policy.”

Additionally, the author notes that the prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are regulated, and that different drugs need to have different approaches of regulation.

And finally, there is a call for doctors and healthcare professionals to involve themselves in the debate, stating that they have the ethical responsibility to advocate for individual and public health, and to speak out against areas in which health and humanity are being degraded:

“Change is coming, and doctors should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A, Psychology

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