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Harm Reduction Consortium: SA at 17 out of 30, but inaugural Global Drug Policy Index reveals most countries fail policy test

The inaugural edition of the Global Drug Policy Index released on Monday (8 November) by the Harm Reduction Consortium, a coalition of civil society and community organisations, in partnership with academia, reveals that most countries’ drug policies fail to comply with the most basic UN-system recommendations, calling for governments to urgently prioritise reform.

The Global Drug Policy Index is the first-ever data-driven global analysis of drug policies and their implementation. It is composed of 75 indicators running across five broad dimensions of drug policy: criminal justice, extreme responses, health and harm reduction, access to internationally controlled medicines, and development. Through this lens, this unique accountability tool documents, measures, and compares national drug policies, providing each country with a score and ranking that shows how much their policies and implementation align with the UN principles of human rights, health, and development. As such, the Index provides an essential evaluation mechanism in the field of drug policy.

The Index’s first iteration evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world, including South Africa, and is illustrated by real life stories. South African scored an overall mean score of 47, placing it at 17 out of the 30 countries, which was lower than two other countries in Africa, namely Morocco, and Senegal. South Africa scored very high, with 80/100, in the absence of extreme sentencing and response, however, these scores were lowered by the low score in militarised policing, which was a mediocre 50/100. The poor scores in Equity of impact of criminal justice response, Extent of imprisonment of individuals involved in non-violent drug-related offences, and Human rights violations, meant a very low score of 39/100 in the proportionality of the criminal justice response.

The lack of state funding for harm reduction services in the country, even in the context of the National Drug Master Plan, which encourages provision of harm reduction services, meant that the score came in at a low 37/100 for the health and harm reduction section. This illustrates the disparities between state policies and how they are implemented on the ground, found by the researchers in all of the 30 countries evaluated. The non-state organisations that have been involved in the delivery of drug replacement medication have experienced the challenges accompanying lack of availability and accessibility of controlled medicines for the relief of pain and suffering, for which South Africa scored a very low 12/100, leading to a rather low 29/100 in the availability of and access to internationally controlled substances for pain relief section, the lowest of all of its scores.

According to Shaun Shelly, founder and chairman of the Board for the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs, and former deputy secretary of the United Nations Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs, the DGPI is a good measure to see how South Africa performs in relation to other countries regarding drug policy, and should discourage complacency.

“Just because South Africa performs well against other countries when it comes to measures like death sentence penalties for drug possession and use, it does not mean we should not look at improving the areas where we were found to be significantly lacking. People still suffer significantly from criminalisation of drug use in the country and we need to aim for a drug policy that matches our constitution,” he said.

“The Global Drug Policy Index is nothing short of a radical innovation,” said Helen Clark, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and former prime minister of New Zealand. “For decision-makers wishing to understand the consequences of drug control, as well as for those who seek to hold governments accountable, the Index sheds light on critical aspects of drug policies that have been historically neglected, such as the differentiated impacts of drug law enforcement on specific ethnic groups, indigenous peoples, women and the poorest members of society.”

The Global Drug Policy Index is a project of the Harm Reduction Consortium, which includes the following partners: the European Network of People Who Use Drugs (EuroNPUD), the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), the Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs (ENPUD), the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) / Swansea University, Harm Reduction International (HRI), the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA), the West African Drug Policy Network (WADPN), the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN), and Youth RISE.

Issued by the Global Drug Policy Index




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