The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform


Scared of incarceration, many users do not seek treatment, trapping them in a cycle of addiction and contributing to the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Addiction to drugs is an illness, and like the other health problems that can come with it, can be treated. However, since the consumption of certain drugs such as heroin and cocaine is a crime in most countries, many addicts are too intimidated to come forward. The threat of imprisonment doesn’t stop them getting addicted, it simply perpetuates their illnesses.


Drug related infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B & C are among the most serious health consequences of drug use. However, other infectious diseases, such as ones that are sexually transmitted, Tuberculosis (TB), and tetanus also plague injecting drug users (IDU) and their families. Unless one believes that drug users sacrifice their right to healthcare, which by would also mean believing they sacrifice their human rights [1], then reducing the spread of these diseases should be a high priority in any country’s drug policy.

Blocked Needle Exchanges in the US

The heavy, regulated approach to the sale of clean needles in fact helps the spread of blood-borne diseases, because IDUs are forced to share whatever needles they can get hold of [2]. In many US states, it is illegal to carry or supply paraphernalia for the purpose of taking or preparing illicit substances, including needles for injection. This essentially ‘blocks’ needle exchange programmes (NEP) from taking off, even though there is a clear relation between syringe prescription laws and disease, AIDS in particular.

Some people see the deregulation of drug paraphernalia as a ‘symbolic justification of drugs’ [3]. It is, however, a way to combat a huge percentage of the AIDS epidemic, and the scheme’s obvious pragmatism should be detached from whatever message it may or may not be thought to give.

The war on AIDS is a public health emergency, not an accessory of the war on drugs. Deregulation of drug paraphernalia at the very least is a specific strategy to attempt to control HIV infections. It is an urgent, critical need; IDUs must be given the opportunity to avoid AIDS.



[1] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights .

[2] Syringe and Needle Regulation, Blood-Borne Disease Transmission, and Concern for Public Safety-Reply.

[3] Daniel Fernando, The Lancet, HIV-prevention strategies, Volume 349, Issue 9062.