Further reflections on the United Nations from SSDP

The two speakers whose words resonated with me the most were H.E. Harold Caballeros of Guatemala and David K. Mineta of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). As Mahogany outlined in her earlier post, Caballeros stated that Guatemala is in the worst possible position for stability; the country is located between the biggest drug producer in the world and the biggest drug consumer in the world. Violence pervades the nation, and the Guatemalan foreign minister believes prohibitionist policies as a “solution” to this problem have failed. It is not that Caballeros supports “allowing citizens the freedom to consume drugs;” what he proposes instead is generating “structural changes in countries aimed at creating work and education options that would isolate persons from the need to traffic and consume drugs.” This emphasis on education fits well with SSDP’s vision; however, I wish that he had pointed out education as a way to teach citizens how to safely consume drugs. It wasn’t completely clear what he meant by education for his citizens.

The other speaker, David Mineta of the United States, left me feeling relieved that someone finally focused on the health aspect of drug use. He currently serves as Deputy Director of Demand Reduction at the ONDCP, which focuses on drug prevention and drug treatment programs. As a public health major, I was extremely interested in learning more about the methods he suggests for treating addicted individuals. He took a scientific approach, stating that “drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain,” which it is! He suggested that we further develop support programs, which are more effective than incarceration. This was all making so much sense to me until he dropped the statistic that drug use in the United States has plummeted by 30% over the past three decades. During lunch, we were all questioning if this was true.

He also addressed an issue very important to me, that of reentry into society after incarceration. Having closely following NYC’s stop-and-frisk policies for the past few years, I’ve learned how difficult it is for convicted persons to assimilate back into society after spending time behind bars, especially for nonviolent drug crimes! Mineta explained that it is unfair for recovering addicts to be barred from work because of outdated and unfair laws. I believe the term here would be “draconian.” I believe SSDP should keep in touch with Director Mineta, as he clearly understands the significance of drug treatment and counseling services, reentry assistance, and alternatives to incarceration.

The Afghanistan country representative, the country that produces the vast majority of the world’s poppy and has a significant amount at stake with this issue, claimed that his country was having major successes in reducing production. The delegate also mentioned that 41 policemen died trying to eradicate the crops and another 96 were injured. He also spoke about Afghanistan’s initiative to crack down on corruption which the drug trade was causing, resulting in 50 police officers being arrested.

However, despite Afghanistan claiming success, Russia blamed Afghanistan for the poppy/heroin problem. They pointed out that Afghanistan’s economy is still mostly based on poppy and that production had not decreased sufficiently. The Russian delegate suggested NATO should to take a role in this and make it a priority issue in Afghanistan.

On the whole I think it is fair to say that the feelings and rhetoric of most countries around the world are changing from one that furiously criminalizes and “cracks down” on drug use as a law and order issue to one that can be effectively approached as a public health problem. Hopefully Uruguay will begin this domino effect and encourage other countries who have been thinking about taking a decimalization and legalization approach to finally do so. Opinions seem to be shifting in favor of these new approaches.

Elizabeth Kinnard studies at Brown University and is an A.B. Candidate in Community Health.
Evan Nison attends Ithaca College and is the President of Ithaca College’s SSDP Chapter.