A Canadian-led initiative that calls on governments to abandon the moralistic war on drugs and adopt evidence-based drug policies has become a centrepiece of the International AIDS Conference.

The Vienna Declaration – a scientific statement that argues the criminalization of drug use is fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic – has garnered a vast array of supporters, including Nobel Prize winners, political leaders, law-enforcement officials, public-health officials and community groups.

“There’s a horrible discordance between evidence and policy in this realm so we felt a need to speak out,” said Evan Wood, founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, co-chair of the committee that drafted the document and a professor at the University of British Columbia.

There is incontrovertible evidence that law enforcement has failed to curtail the market for illicit drugs, which is worth an estimated $320-billion (U.S.) a year, he said.

So, instead of merely arresting and jailing those who take illegal drugs, money should be spent on public-health efforts such as needle exchanges and methadone treatment. Removing the stigma and legal barriers will also make it easier for drug users to come forward to seek treatment for infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, as well as rehabilitative services.

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