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European drug policies should follow Swiss example in aiming to reduce "drug harm", says Assembly Committee (17.12.2001)

Strasbourg, 17.12.2001 - European drug policies are being made with "defective knowledge" since - with little reliable comparable data - it is nearly impossible to objectively assess their success or failure with a high degree of certainty, according to a revised report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly's Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee on Friday.

However the report, by Paul Flynn (United Kingdom, SOC), notes that there appears to be no evidence legal sanctions designed to deter drug possession and use have any effect whatsoever.

Council of Europe member states should instead be encouraged to implement drug policies which aspire to the achievable goal of reducing "drug harm" - a broader concept which takes into account drug-related deaths, diseases and crime.

An earlier draft of the report, with similar conclusions, was referred back to the committee in June by the plenary Parliamentary Assembly.

In a revised draft recommendation, the committee particularly commends the government of Switzerland for its success in "stabilising and then reducing the number of drug-related deaths since 1994". The report mentions Swiss prevention and treatment programmes including needle exchanges, injection rooms, heroin for severely addicted users, and housing and employment programmes for addicts. The Netherlands is also commended for the emphasis it places on harm reduction in its policies.

The United Kingdom and Sweden, on the other hand, continue to try to deter drug use by means of severe legal penalties, despite evidence that this approach lacks utility, the committee notes.

In the meantime, say the parliamentarians, states should adopt policies which reflect awareness of a likely causal link between deprivation and drug harm. They also recommend, among other measures, common indicators for measuring and comparing European drug policies, standardisation of research and data recording methods across Europe, and the use of confiscated drug proceeds for the rehabilitation of addicts.

The report and draft recommendation will again be submitted to the plenary Parliamentary Assembly for debate, possibly during its January session (21-25 January 2002).

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