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  • The arm of a boy shot dead, a victim of drug cartel violence, on the pavement in Acapulco, Mexico.

    The arm of a boy shot dead, a victim of drug cartel violence, on the pavement in Acapulco, Mexico. | Photo: AFP

Published 30 March 2016

Public health has been affected in a number of ways including increased homicides, overdoses and increases in HIV and hepatitis transmissions.

A leading global public health commission is calling for new policies aimed at transforming our approach to drug use and addiction worldwide, including the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug offenses.

A report by the medical journal of the Lancet and Johns Hopkins University said the five-decades long "War on Drugs," started by former U.S. president Richard Nixon, has drastically undercut public health across the globe.

RELATED: Drug War Victims Speak, Caravan for Peace Departs from Honduras

The War on Drugs is to blame for some of today's most urgent public health crises while its effect on the use and proliferation of drugs has been minimal.

"The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” said Commissioner Chris Beyrer, epidemiology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"The global ‘War on Drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions,” Beyrer explained.

The report's authors have instead called for an evidence-based approach, focused on reducing harm by minimizing both the violence associated with drugs and the health risks, such as the transmission of HIV and hepatitis through shared needles.

RELATED: Report: War on Drugs Meant to Imprison Blacks, Leftists

Furthermore, the authors are calling for the decriminalization of minor and nonviolent drug use; policies that reduce violence and discrimination in drug policing; increased access to controlled medicines that could reduce the risk of overdose, and greater investments in health and social services for drug users.

Commissioner Joanne Csete from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, said that when it comes to drugs, standard public health and scientific approaches have been rejected. "By dismissing extensive evidence of the health and human rights harms of drug policies, countries are neglecting their legal responsibilities to their citizens.”

Places in Central America and Mexico have also shown that the War on Drugs has led to an increase in violence. In Mexico, since the military began policing drug traffickers in 2006 so many homicides have occurred that overall life expectancy has been reduced.

RELATED: As Heroin Epidemic Hits Whites, Obama Calls for New Drug Policy

In contrast, countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic have shown that decriminalizing non-violent offences such as possession and petty sale can produce widespread social and health benefits.

The policy adopted by these countries has also led to financial savings and, crucially, has not increased the problem of drug abuse. 

The decades-long strategy of outlawing drugs and jailing users while battling cartels that control the trade has come under increasing fire from critics over recent years.

Unsafe drugs supplied by violent criminal gangs increase the risk of overdose, while incarceration fuels disease transmission in prison, and law enforcement is often applied in a discriminatory way against, especially against minority populations, the authors added. 

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