Intervention on agenda item 5 – follow-up to the thematic segment from the 35th PCB (on halving HIV transmission among People Who Inject Drugs)
Delivered by Charles King, North America NGO Delegate
Mr. Chair, please allow me to commend you for your insightful leadership of this meeting, and for your thoughtful facilitation of our dialogue regarding the proposed decision points for this agenda item. (And I trust these comments will not count against my time.)
Last December, we heard powerful testimony of the suffering and humiliation so often experienced by people who inject drugs, and we heard remarkable examples of harm reduction interventions that have proven successful in diverse settings around the globe, including collaboration between law enforcement and the impacted community.
Despite these examples, reducing the number of new infections among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015 is an impossible dream. The goal is not impossible for lack of evidence or technology. It is impossible, first, due to the lack of political will.
Second, the goal is made impossible by moral judgments so strong that some would rather see people who use drugs die than receive the support that they often need, evidenced by the belief that drug addicts need to “hit bottom” before they can be helped. For what other chronic condition do we require people to fall to the precipice of the abyss before we offer aid? I am reminded of the ACT UP chant, “DEAD ADDICTS DON’T RECOVER!
In New York, we once tried to eradicate drugs through harsh legal sanctions, only to find that these policies exacerbated the crisis. At the peak of our HIV epidemic, 50% of all new infections, some 7,500 new infections annually, were attributable to shared syringes. Through the use of a broad range of harm reduction interventions, we turned the tide, and, I am pleased to report, in 2013, we had less than 100 new infections associated with injection drug use.
In New York, we have more work to do. We need to fully decriminalize syringe possession, as well as possession of drugs for personal use. But we have achieved one major step. We have developed the political will to end AIDS as an epidemic in every community and every population in our state.
In fact, we have moved beyond the goals of 90-90-90 and instead have officially committed to achieving the 2030 goal of an end to AIDS as a public health threat a decade early. And if civil society has its way, we will achieve the three zeros by 2020.
The message of last December’s thematic is clear. Many of our drug policies have proven not only counterproductive with regard to drug control, but accelerants to the spread of HIV and devastating to people who use drugs. Our approach to people who use drugs must be based on human rights, on respect for human dignity and on the full embrace of harm reduction interventions, implemented in solidarity with people who use drugs, which necessarily includes full funding of impacted civil society. Finally, we must all carry the message of lessons learned in the AIDS response to the UNGASS on Drugs next year and underscore those lessons at the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.