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July 30, 2010

Wood: Drug war has hand in HIV epidemic (Austin): "Vienna was selected to host the biannual meeting of HIV experts because it is the gateway to one of the world's most rapidly growing HIV epidemics: that among heroin users in Eastern Europe. Outside sub-Saharan Africa, about one in three new HIV infections stems from injecting illegal drugs, and in some parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 70 percent of those who inject illicit drugs are infected with the virus.

"In response to these statistics, this year's conference endorsed as its official statement the Vienna Declaration, a document I helped draft to draw widespread attention to how the U.S.-led war on drugs has played a central role in driving the HIV epidemic around the world.

"Writing in the medical journal the Lancet, where the Vienna Declaration was also published, Michel Sidibe, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other prominent scientific leaders stated the situation succinctly: "The war on drugs has failed."

"Criminalizing drug abuse drives addicts deeper underground and into the kinds of unsafe practices such as needle-sharing that spread infection. We have seen that countries with the most draconian drug laws also have the highest rates of HIV infection among users. In Russia, for example, where one in 100 adults is now estimated to be HIV-infected, a drug war has outlawed basic harm reduction tools, such as methadone maintenance treatment. Methadone is on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines, but Russian physicians cannot openly discuss the need to prescribe the treatment without fear of reprisals.

"The mass incarceration of drug users is particularly alarming, given the spread of HIV in prisons. A Pew Trusts analysis of U.S. Department of Justice data noted that one in nine [U.S.] black males ages 20 to 34 is in prison, many of them as a result of drug law enforcement. Given the link between prisons and HIV, it is not surprising that in places such as Washington more than 80 percent of HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 were among blacks. ...

"Given the international public health emergency presented by HIV among drug users and the estimated $2.5 trillion in tax dollars wasted on the drug war over the last 40 years, the U.S. should move forward with this simple call."