Is the War on Drugs Driving a Hep C Pandemic?
A new report says strict anti-drug policies drive the global spread of disease.
Anti-drug rhetoric and policies stemming from the "war on drugs" are to blame for rising rates of hepatitis C across the globe, according to a new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP). Enforcing drug laws cost approximately $545 billion over the past 40 years, in the US alone—and billions more across the globe. But experts say resources should be redirected towards treatment and prevention for the estimated 16 million people worldwide who inject drugs—10 million of whom are living with hepatitis C, an infectious liver disease that is often contracted by sharing needles. The Global Commission—which includes seven former presidents, ex-UN chief Kofi Annan and other world leaders—says that criminalizing drugs only makes it more difficult for users to get public health services, and increases the spread of infection. "The war on drugs is a war on common sense," says commissioner Ruth Dreifuss, who is also the former president of Switzerland. "Repressive drug policies are ineffective, violate basic human rights, generate violence and expose individuals and communities to unnecessary risks. The hepatitis C epidemic, totally preventable and curable, is yet another proof that the drug policy status quo has failed us all miserably."
According to the report, the highest number of infections are in the US, China and the Russian Federation—some of the countries with the strictest drug policies. On the other hand, the Commission praised Scotland’s Hepatitis C Action Plan, which launched in 2006 and has driven down the rates of infection by offering health services and sterile injecting equipment to users. “If you compare rates of hepatitis C in drug users in countries with good harm reduction and more enlightened drug policies with those in countries without, it is clear that regarding drug use exclusively as a criminal justice issue is a health disaster,” says a spokesperson for the World Hepatitis Alliance. “Hepatitis C, its prevention, care and treatment must be addressed and must be addressed as the health issue it is."