Drugs and Drug Policies in the Americas

On the occasion of the 70th CICAD Assembly, Dianova makes a positive assessment of its partnerships and calls for drug policies reform

Drug policies in the Americas

After decades whereby a prohibitionist regime reigned supreme in the American hemisphere while remaining largely impervious to critiques despite its disastrous consequences it is now time to propose alternatives – image adapted from Shutterstock

By María Victoria Espada. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), the Organisation of American States (OAS) consultative and advisory body on drug issues, held its Seventieth regular session from 16 to 19 November, in virtual format. The wide agenda included different sessions and panels on topics related to drugs in the American continent, the presentation of the CICAD Executive Secretariat’s 2022 work programme, and various interventions by civil society organisations.

Evolution of drug trafficking patterns

According to the “Report on the supply of drugs in the Americas”, presented at the event, “drug supply in the Americas is not defined by a single substance, (…) a fact that reflects the variety in the supply of illegal drugs in the region”. While cannabis and cocaine can be found in all American countries, the availability of heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine is still concentrated in North America, although the possibility of their proliferation in other countries is acknowledged. Certain indicators also suggest that trafficking patterns are evolving in the region, which is why CICAD recommends that Member States “develop early warning systems to act against synthetic drugs, new psychoactive substances and other emerging drugs”.

Facilitating access to treatment services

It is clear that substance abuse is associated with health and social situations, which have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. Furthermore, “persons with disorders resulting from substance abuse face a treatment access gap,” as indicated by the representative of the Pan American Health Organisation, who advised the countries of the Americas to develop “drug policies which are balanced, comprehensive, inclusive, adequately financed and with a focus on human rights”. Along the same lines, in order to facilitate access to treatment services, such services should be included within primary care, without this leading to their quality being neglected.

70th Session of CICAD

Experience with virtual prevention programmes

The sharing of good prevention practises in times of a pandemic highlighted the need to anchor programmes in the community setting of the beneficiaries, as well as to coordinate local and national prevention systems and to form institutional partnerships.

The implementation of virtual prevention programmes in combination with other in-person activities also proved to be a success. Other elements highlighted as essential in designing prevention programmes were gender and multicultural perspectives, the focus on human rights and public health, and youth participation.

Development of public-private partnerships to facilitate reintegration

On their part, various civil society organisations presented different public-private partnership initiatives to promote the integration of persons with drug use problems. With an important component of life skill training and reinforcement, these initiatives put the emphasis on the autonomy and empowerment of the beneficiaries, in order to facilitate their reintegration into society and into the job market while creating support networks and developing a sense of belonging to the community.

The experience of Dianova Foundation Uruguay

In the same vein, Dianova International presented an oral statement to share two positive examples of public-private partnerships between the Dianova Foundation Uruguay and the Uruguayan National Commission on Drugs, National Drug Secretariat and National Drug Network (RENADRO). The first example was the dual pathology treatment centre “Chanaes” for men with problematic use of psychoactive substances associated with severe and persistent mental disorders. The second example was the “Aleros” programme, which focused on promoting and protecting the rights of those with psychoactive substance use problems living in the most economically deprived neighbourhoods of Uruguay’s capital city.

Generating synergies through public-private partnerships

Dianova International pointed out the strengths of both of these public-private initiatives, which allow the real needs and demands of the people to be identified and subsequently carried out into concrete proposals and projects. “The engagement of the Dianova Foundation Uruguay teams makes it possible to bridge the gap between the desk of the public administration and the target population”. The flowing and continuous relationship between the Dianova Foundation Uruguay and the public administration, at both the institutional level and between the technical teams, was specifically recognised as a key success factor in this public-private partnership. For that reason, Dianova International called on the countries of the Americas to increase the opportunities for these kinds of partnerships between civil society organisations and the public administration, through the creation of “enabling environments” which allow the organisations to be strengthened and which reduce their weaknesses.

Dianova supports the WOLA declaration and advocates a drug policy reform

Together with other civil society organisations, Dianova International also supported the oral statement made by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Among other things, the countries of the Americas were urged to overhaul repressive drug policies through the creation of alternatives to imprisonment and to treat problems associated with drug use and dependency from a public health perspective. Universal access to services for prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, harm reduction and social integration were also required to be guaranteed, and special attention must be paid to the gender perspective in all aspects of drug policy. Furthermore, care services should be designed according to scientific foundations and ethical principles, with respect for human rights guaranteed in all actions. Finally, Member States of the OAS were called on to keep the dialogue going on the CICAD and to rely on the signatory authorities as “intermediaries who are critical, but also constructive, in the pursuit of these common goals”.