During the CICAD meeting in Miami, the Dianova representative urged the OAS countries to implement measures to end the stigma
By María Victoria Espada –The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the advisory and advisory body of the Organization of American States (OAS) on the subject of drugs, met at its sixty-sixth regular session in the city of Miami (United States) during November 19-21. CICAD serves as a forum for OAS Member States to debate and find solutions to the drug problem and, in addition, provides technical assistance to these countries to increase their human and institutional capacities with the objective of reducing the demand and supply of illegal drugs. Likewise, the meeting was used to approve the appointment of the United States as president of CICAD for next year, taking over from Argentina, and also to approve the Drug Policy Evaluation Report.
Following a tight schedule of content, member countries discussed the evolution and increased presence of synthetic drugs in Latin America, as well as new forms of supply of illicit substances through regular mail and the use of cryptocurrencies as a means of payment. Likewise, good regulatory practices were exchanged for the control of chemical and pharmaceutical substances used in the illicit manufacture of drugs, and the recommendations of the United Nations on the lists of controlled substances and their impact on national, regional and international agencies were reviewed. The need to reduce the stigma associated with the consumption of illicit substances to promote access to treatment was another of the issues discussed, and there were also effective alternatives to incarceration for substance use and examples of community and school preventive interventions based on the experience of countries. Member states shared new national drug strategies and action plans, as well as efforts made to counteract the trafficking of illegal substances and the promotion of safety and stability in the region.
Devastating effects on health
A recurring concern mentioned in the different work sessions was the increase in abuse and addiction to opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as their effects on public health and economic well-being. The generalized substitution in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco by drugs (marijuana and cocaine) that has been observed in the school and university populations was also discussed, with the aggravating fact that its mixture with adulterating substances has devastating effects on health. In some countries, methamphetamine consumption has also skyrocketed, reaching places where until recently this substance was totally unknown, and including women, youth and certain types of workers who use it to increase their work performance.
There were innovative initiatives presented by some countries for alternatives to imprisonment, such as diversion programs, restorative justice, and community courts.
The fact that consumption disorders are not considered criminal problems, but health ones, and that they are treated by the justice system in collaboration with health systems has allowed the reduction of the incarceration rate with positive impacts on users and their families and communities, especially in those environments of greatest vulnerability.
The role of civil society against stigma
Especially interesting was the discussion led by some civil society organizations about the necessary reduction of stigma in order to promote access to treatment for people in need. Stigma is added to other systemic barriers such as difficulties in accessing specialized services, the cost of treatments and their reduced scope, and the lack of public resources to develop programs with a gender focus, among others. Those affected also add self-stigma to the stigma they see around them, which increases their sense of isolation and the seriousness of their situation. The professionalization of the human resources that serve these users was indicated as a positive action to counteract the stigma and increase the permanence rate in the treatment programs. Country delegates also requested an increase in the provision of resources to meet the increasingly growing and diverse demand of people affected by drug use. Dianova had the opportunity to read a statement urging OAS countries to implement measures to end stigma and accompany them with initiatives to improve access and permanence in treatment programs, especially for women.
To address the above-mentioned challenges, countries advocated establishing early warning systems, increasing financial capacities, human resources and research capabilities, and building bridges between health institutions and those of justice and order at the national level. They also reiterated the need to continue implementing actions that place the individual at the center of drug policies, with a cross-cutting focus on human rights, gender and development, supported by evidence-based drug policies. Finally, they emphasized the need to exchange information and share successful experiences, while strengthening bilateral, multilateral and regional cooperation between American countries.