The Vienna Declaration is a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. The declaration was drafted by a team of international experts and initiated by several of the world’s leading HIV and drug policy scientific bodies: the International AIDS Society, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP). It was prepared through an extensive consultative process involving global leaders in medicine, public policy and public health. The declaration was the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) which was held in Vienna, Austria from July 18th to 23rd, 2010.
The world needs a new approach to dealing with illicit drugs. The primary international response to the health and social harms posed by drug use has involved a global “war on drugs” aimed at reducing the availability and use of illegal drugs through drug law enforcement.
In June 1998, the UN General Assembly hosted a Special Session on illegal drugs under the slogan “A drug free world – We can do it.” The session set out international drug control strategies and law enforcement goals for the subsequent decade in which it was hoped the world could be made “drug free.”
However, it is now clear that drug law enforcement has not achieved its stated objectives. In fact, illicit drugs remain readily available worldwide, and the previous three decades have seen drug prices continue to fall while drug purity continues to increase. In addition, the over-reliance on drug law enforcement has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. This includes the enrichment of organized crime and associated violence, the spread of HIV among injection drug users, as well as other devastating harms as outlined in the Vienna Declaration.
The negative effects of drug control efforts in the United States led to a unanimous resolution at the 2007 annual United States Conference of Mayors that stated that the War on Drugs has failed. The resolution called for a “New Bottom Line” in drug policy, and demanded a public health approach focused on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse while ensuring that policies do not exacerbate problems or create new social problems of their own.
The need for evidence-based public health approaches is clear, yet drug law enforcement continues to be the dominant policy approach at the expense of all others, including public health interventions that have been proven effective. For instance, methadone maintenance therapy remains illegal in Russia and other parts of the world where HIV is spreading most rapidly among heroin users. This ban persists despite the fact that methadone is on the World Health Organization’s list of Essential Medicines and is recognized as one of the most effective treatments for heroin addiction.
The status quo cannot be tolerated any longer: illicit drug policy must be based on scientific evidence to protect and improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities around the world.