First published on www.huffingtonpost.com
By Chris Beyrer and Michel Kazatchkine
America’s growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse is forcing a long-overdue reckoning with failed national drug policies. Having long treated substance use as a matter for the police and prisons, many policymakers are finally coming to understand drug dependence as a disease and public health problem, to be faced with science and empathy.
While recent efforts by the U.S. Senate and White House to expand access to treatment and mental health services for substance users are a welcome move, they represent only a small shift and not the radical change that is needed to effectively address the problem.
In the U.S. and many countries around the world, drug policies have not only failed to curb drug use, they are causing massive harm to the people and societies they are supposed to serve, from spurring violence to driving epidemics of infectious disease.
In a few weeks, world leaders will have a chance to start reversing this tragedy in a special session of the UN General Assembly focused on the global drug problem. The last such meeting was nearly two decades ago, and its focus on zero tolerance for substance use, enforcement and punishment has fueled many of the harmful anti-drug polices we see around the globe today. Both science and experience say the world can do better.
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