Health Poverty Action is concerned that current drug policies are causing immense suffering in poor countries, and denying poor and marginalised people their health rights.

They believe that The War on Drugs…

  • Undermines democratic governance. The power and influence of drug cartels severely weakens states. The culture of fear and corruption can make it almost impossible for citizens to exercise democratic influence, access their rights, and hold officials to account for essential public services such as health and education.
  • Diverts attention and resources from essential services. Many governments in poor countries are engaged in constant civil war with the drug cartels.  It is a war they are ill-equipped to win, with the cartels often having access to far greater financial resources. The costs of waging this war, both financial and in terms of dominating the political agenda, again leave little for public services such as health care.
  • Wastes global finance. The worldwide cost of waging the War on Drugs is estimated at $100 billion a year. This is approaching the same amount as the global aid budget (currently $130 billion).
  • Blocks access to essential medicines. Five billion people live in countries with limited or no access to opioid pain medications like morphine, and in most of those countries, overly stringent regulations on legal medications, spurred by fears that they could find their way to the illicit market, play a major role in depriving people of the pain relief they need.
  • Causes pollution and deforestation. The pursuit of drug prohibition involves the regular eradication of crops in areas where drug-related crops are grown and drugs produced, followed by deforestation when cultivation and production are relocated. This can be particularly harmful to indigenous communities and biodiversity.
  • Criminalises small scale farmers and people who use drugs. The potential consequences of being discovered breaking the law, prevents people who use drugs from accessing state services like health care and police protection. It also makes harm reduction work much more difficult. In addition, criminalisation cuts farmers off from the support they would need (such as financing) to make a sustainable living growing other crops.
  • Undermines sustainable agriculture and local food production. Crop eradication also damages local food production and sustainable agriculture by destroying food crops and polluting the soil and water, reducing farmers’ ability to grow crops on the same land in the future.
  • Increases local drug use and associated health problems. Crackdowns on the drug trade in one region displace it to new areas, creating a cheap local supply in more developing countries, which inevitably leads to higher levels of local use.  In many places, farm workers are paid with drugs rather than money.


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