The War on Drugs is an instructive example of how criminal responses to health concerns are not only ineffective, but harmful.
Drug prohibition has led to challenges in regulating consistency in drug supply leading to fatal overdoses, stigma towards people who use drugs -- particularly Black people who use drugs -- and challenges for accessing medical treatment for substance use disorders. This, in addition to the severe mental, physical, and emotional health consequences of being introduced into the carceral system, indicates that our current carceral models are actually causing more harm, rather than preventing health inequities/harms. Drug policy is not based on public health and evidence, but an instrument of oppressing communities of color, immigrant communities, and people impacted by poverty.
The following selected resources lay out how criminalization of drugs has been worse than ineffective -- it has increased health-related harms and exacerbated racial inequities. Criminalization of drug use is not at all based in scientific evidence and aims to erase the agency of people who use drugs. Updated 3.23.22.
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Harm reduction approaches to drug use choose not to condone or condemn drug use, but to support people who use drugs in living healthy, safe, and fulfilling lives. Harm reduction programs include syringe access, overdose prevention sites through safer consumption spaces, and community drop-in centers for people who use drugs. Get linked with a harm reduction program in your community and ask how you can support anti-carceral approaches to harm caused by the war on drugs.
Join a drug decriminalization campaign in your state. In 2020, Oregon decriminalized personal use of all drugs, and Washington, DC decriminalized drug paraphernalia.
Check out this resource on how to shift the way we talk about drugs and drug policy. How can this apply to the work you do in research or practice?
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Last updated May 2021