Thursday, January 29, 2009

Public Health and Human Rights Advocates Ask Obama to Ensure That US Delegation to UN Drug Meeting Reflects His Support for Syringe Exchange


NEW YORK CITY - The Harm Reduction Coalition published an op-ed today urging the Obama administration to send delegates to an upcoming meeting of United Nations Member States that will reflect the President’s public health and drug policies. Per the official White House site, President Obama supports “lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of [HIV] infection among drug users.”

“Our current US delegation is primarily made up of State Department bureaucrats that have been hostile towards syringe exchange and harm reduction at a time when Australia, Canada, Iran, and most European Union countries embrace them as important drug policy tools,” said Allan Clear, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition and the writer of the op-ed. “We don’t want President Obama to miss this vital early opportunity to lead us back into an era of evidence-based policy.”

The upcoming Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, which will take place in Vienna on March 12-13, 2009, will review the results of the1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs that set the framework for the last decade’s international drug policy. Delegates from UN Member States will then release a political declaration that will set the framework for the next decade — and, by implication, the course for the global response to the HIV epidemic as if affects drug users.

In addition, the op-ed urges the Obama administration to expand the US delegation to include members of civil society. Notes Rebecca Schleifer, an advocate for Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS program, “The UNGASS meeting must be opened up to include civil society. This is the standard for UN conferences about women, HIV/AIDS, and disability. However, when it comes to drug policy, we see again that the voices of those who are most affected are missing.” Sanho Tree, a Fellow and Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, concurs: “It will be easier to design effective solutions with input from all affected parties.”

In a letter co-sponsored with Physicians for Human Rights and co-signed by 60+ public health and human rights organizations, the Harm Reduction Coalition has asked the Obama administration to immediately appoint a more progressive US delegation to the UNGASS review process. As of today’s date, January 27th, a mere six weeks from the 2009 UNGASS, there has been no response from the Obama administration.

To speak with Allan Clear or other media spokespeople, including Rebecca Schleifer and Sanho Tree, contact Nancy Goldstein at 347 563 1647 or

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