Experts call for more rights based, evidence informed drug control policies

Jul 2, 2015

Government, civil society representatives and development partners have committed to address drug control laws and policies that negatively affect human rights and public health goals, including a commitment to advocate for international guidelines on drug policy, at a consultation convened by UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development Group in New York.

According to the World Drug Report 2015 of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), 246 million people worldwide use drugs, with 12 million of these injecting them.

According to Tenu Avafia, Policy Advisor at UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development group, “Punitive laws and measures are deterring people who use drugs from accessing the HIV testing and treatment services. This in turn is fuelling the HIV epidemic. People who inject drugs are 28 times more likely to have HIV than the general adult population. We must do more to align drug control policies with public health goals and human rights commitments of the UN Member States.” 

Evidence shows that programmes such as methadone treatment and the distribution of sterile syringes reduce drug use as well as criminal activity. They also prevent overdose deaths, HIV and viral hepatitis and improve uptake and adherence to antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive people.

The 2012 report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law raises concerns about the health and human rights consequences of drug control policies and highlights the role of human rights violations against people who use drugs. The report states that criminalization strategies adopted by national drug control systems hinder public health outcomes, as fear of arrest impedes people’s access to and the uptake of HIV and health services.

“I am pleased to see commitments being taken to initiate a policy debate on the development dimensions of drug control policies,” said Stephen Lewis, Member of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. “As we move forward we must also call on countries to address the often dreadful human rights violations experienced by people who use drugs - we should not leave this community behind.”

Evidence shared at the two-day consultation revealed that drug laws, policies and enforcement activities intersect with, and have consequences for, a broad spectrum of human rights issues, including public health, arbitrary detention without due process, forced labour and women and children’s rights.

“In the majority of countries around the world, people who use drugs are suffering from human rights violations,” said Eliot Albers, Executive Director of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs. “Punitive laws and policies are supporting these violations and this is what keeps people, who use drugs, marginalized. This has got to stop.”


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The Global Commission on HIV and the Law

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body, convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The Commission undertook extensive research, consultation, analysis and deliberation over a period of 2 years to examine links between legal environments and HIV responses. The conclusions and recommendations of the Commission are included in its final report 'HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health' (July 2012).

Contact information

Tenu Avafia, Policy Advisor, UNDP HIV, Health and Development Group, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (BPPS), New York, email:

For media queries: Sangita Khadka, Communications Specialist, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (BPPS), email:

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