To advance the goals of public health, mainly preventing the spread of HIV, the World Health Organization is calling for the decriminalization of drugs in a new set of guidelines.

The report acknowledges that, “Supporting the health and well-being of key populations whose sexual behaviours, drug use, gender expression or perceived sexual orientation are currently criminalized may require changing legislation and adopting new policies and protective laws in accordance with international human rights standards. Without protective policies and decriminalization of the behaviour of key populations, barriers to essential health services will remain; many people from key populations may fear that seeking health care will expose them to adverse legal consequences.

It highlights the example of Portugal which decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and focused on harm reduction strategies. In 2000 the country had 907 new HIV cases among drug users but that dropped to only 267 new cases in 2008.

That is why when it comes to drugs they recommend:

  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.
  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs) and that legalize OST for people who are opioid-dependent.
  • Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs

The War on Drugs was not just an expensive failure and a racial justice travesty, it has hampered efforts to stop the spread of deadly diseases. The positive news is that the failings of the War on Drugs are starting to be more publicly acknowledged both nationally and internationally.