Some of the world’s top AIDS experts issued a radical manifesto this week at the 18th International AIDS Conference: They declared the war on drugs a 50-year-old failure and called for it to be abandoned.

No one heard.

Officially, the theme of the AIDS meeting, the world’s largest public health gathering, is the need to attack the rapidly growing epidemic among addicts in Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia. It was held in Vienna because this city is the doorway to the East and, in this German-speaking country, all the conference signs are in English and Russian.

(In a lovely ironic touch, the conference hall is only a few steps from the Ferris wheel in the Orson Welles film noir classic set in postwar Vienna, “The Third Man.” On it, a cynical dealer of counterfeit drugs tells his pursuer to look down at the people below and says: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic…. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”)

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