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In a joint letter (see below) sent to Bent Høie, Norway’s health minister, the Norwegian Association for Safer Drug Policies (Foreningen Tryggere Ruspolitikk) and 20 policymakers and civil society, healthcare or law enforcement stakeholders from 10 countries, recalled that the Scandinavian country could be a model for the rest of the world’s drug policies.
Indeed, Norway recently started a shift in its national approach to drug control enforcement, prioritizing public health over the longstanding criminal approach. Internationally as well, the Norwegian delegation has adopted a proactive role within the United Nations to promote and defend health and human rights as pillars of the international community’s focus on drugs.
Norwegian authorities deserve to be congratulated for their ongoing effort, but support from civil society and experts is always needed to monitor reforms. In this case, further steps in the reform are needed to ensure final policies that work efficiently in the country, and that could as well serve as a template for other countries to follow.
Among the 5 key suggestions of the open letter can be outlined the call for a decriminalization of non-violent drug offenses and for increased investment in access to, and availability of harm reduction and treatment programmes.
We, the undersigned, commend the Minister on initiating the shift from a criminal justice to a public health approach in Norwegian drug policy. If executed correctly, not only does this important reform hold the potential to save lives and reduce drug-related harms in Norway, it can have a major impact internationally, serving as an example for other nations looking to reform their drug policies.
Around the world, an increasing number of governments are turning to pragmatic health and harm reduction strategies as a more effective way of dealing with drug-related problems on both a societal and an individual level. Unlike the traditional approach to illicit drugs, which is focused on curbing use, the harm reduction approach builds on a commitment to public health and human rights and seeks to reduce the overall harms from drug use in society by making drug use less harmful – for both people who use drugs and those that do not – wherever possible.
To identify, assess and prioritize policies in a Norwegian model, independent commissions of drug policy experts from relevant disciplines such as medicine, criminology, sociology and economics should be consulted to ensure that the full evidence base is reflected in the new regime. People who use drugs and drug services should be included in consultations along with other affected communities.
Drawing on research and experience from a variety of countries and disciplines, a number of policymakers, health care professionals, academics and drug policy experts would like to recommend the following preliminary set of ideas for the Minister’s consideration:
1. The overall goal of drug policy reform should be to minimize the total strain that drug use and drug criminalization has on the individual and society, rather than the prevalence of use. This effort should be based on the best evidence and evaluated with a comprehensive set of indicators of public health, community safety, and human rights.
2. Important harm reduction services should be scaled up to meet demand, and easy access to these services should be ensured. Examples of such services are drug substitution therapy with a wide range of medications, supervised drug consumption sites, drug testing sites, sufficient access to naloxone and other antagonists, and needle and syringe exchange programmes for those who need them (including prison populations).
3. Minor, non-violent drug offenses should be decriminalized. This includes possession and use, as well as minor acquisition, production for personal use and petty sale. Using police resources in this area is ineffective and often harmful, and resources are better employed strengthening health and social-sector alternatives.
4. Investments in treatment programmes and aftercare facilities should be prioritized and validated using high-quality evidence and research, just like other medical interventions. Compulsory treatment and measures such as coerced urine testing and forced abstinence should be avoided as they adversely impact patient outcomes in addition to being at odds with basic medical ethics and human rights.
5. Prevention and information efforts should be based on the best evidence. Honest information campaigns should be designed using evidence-based guidelines for risk communication. Prevention efforts in schools and society should be based on tested approaches, supplemented with investments in general preventive factors such as education, vocational training, housing and social activities.
We hope the Minister of Health in Norway, as well as the global community, will consider these recommendations in their important effort to change both Norwegian and global drug policy reform initiatives. We are happy to offer support and assistance as needed.
Hedy d’Ancona, Former Minister of Health, The Netherlands
David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology, UK
Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner of Durham UK
Ann Fordham, Executive Director, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) – UK
Steve Rolles, Senior policy analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation, UK
Johann Hari, Writer and drug policy activist, UK
Neil Woods, Chairman Law enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP)UK and board member LEAP USA, UK
Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy, Head of drug policy reform, ECHO, France
Anne-Marie Cockburn, bereaved mother of 15 year old Martha Fernback and campaigner for Anyone’s Child, Families for Safer Drug Control, UK
Peter Muyshondt, Deputy chief of police, Local Police Voorkempen, Belgium
Bård Dyrdal, Police Superintendent, Oslo Politidistrikt, Chairman LEAP Scandinavia, Norway
Nanna W. Gotfredsen – Lawyer, Executive Director & Founder of The Danish Street Lawyers – Denmark,
Frederik Polak – Psychiatrist, Board Member Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation – Netherlands
Kari Lossius, Specialist in Clinical Psychology, Bergen Clinics Foundation, Norway
Harvey B. Milkman, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Metropolitan State University of Denver, USA
Ted Goldberg, Professor of Sociology, Sweden
Tuukka Tammi, Development Manager, Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland
Ole Røgeberg, Senior Research Fellow/Deputy Director – Frisch Centre, Norway
Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli, Head of Research, Foundation for Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think & do tank, Spain
Ina Roll Spinnangr, Chair, The Association Safer Drug Policies, Norway.