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It’s time for a new approach to drug policy, writes Jamie Bridge

This year, a global advocacy campaign is being launched to raise awareness of the need for widespread drug policy reform. Support. Don’t Punish aims to highlight the harms caused by the criminalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs, while also promoting policy alternatives grounded in public health, social inclusion and human rights.

The global ‘war on drugs’ is fuelling HIV and hepatitis epidemics among people who use drugs, as well as a wide range of other health, social and economic harms. People who inject drugs now account for a third of all HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa, and up to 80 per cent of infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Repressive drug laws, policies and practices aim to stifle drug markets but have failed to reduce levels of drug use around the world and have instead created a policy environment that condones mass incarceration, torture, execution, abuse and discrimination.

The campaign will be officially launched through a prominent ‘day of action’ on 26 June – the UN’s ‘international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking’. The day has been used by some governments for public executions of drug offenders and a celebration of the repressive approaches that we know are causing so much harm, but Support. Don’t Punish is our chance to take ownership of this day and change the global rhetoric on drug policy – promoting reform, alternatives and more humane responses.

Paradoxically, 26 June is also the UN’s ‘international day in support of victims of torture’ – a coincidence that takes on added significance following a recent report from the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan E Méndez, in which he stated that the systematic maltreatment of people who use drugs in health settings, such as forced detoxification or denial of services, may cross a threshold equivalent to torture or punishment. 

So we’re asking supporters to engage in a ‘day of action’ – changing their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter and taking to the streets in selected cities as part of a high profile coordinated effort to raise global media and public awareness of the issues. www.supportdontpunish.org contains all the information you need to participate, including the campaign statement, factsheets, briefings, videos, logos and t-shirt and mask designs.

Please visit the website to register your support for the campaign statement, and spread the message to colleagues and friends. You can use the Twitter hashtag #supportdontpunish for news, links or reports, and an interactive photo project has been launched for people to express their support. 

The campaign’s bold and independent branding can be freely adopted by any organisation or individual who supports its aims, and it’s hoped that this will become an ‘umbrella’ under which groups from around the world can identify.

NGOs, charities, activists, advocates and networks of people who use drugs can freely download all of the campaign materials to use in their own way to influence governments, donors, policy makers, the media and the general public.

Support. Don’t Punish is part of the Community Action on Harm Reduction project (www.cahrproject.org), an ambitious, four-year project which aims to expand HIV and harm reduction services to more than 180,000 people who inject drugs in China, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Malaysia. The campaign is being led by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) alongside the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Jamie Bridge is senior policy and operations manager at IDPC

supportdontpunish.org