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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Drogues et addictions- la repression n’est pas une solution

by Theo Maneval

Drugs and Addiction - Repression is Not the Solution

Translated Monday 16 July 2012, by Justine Mason and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Senate representative of the communist group “Republican and Citizen”, Laurence Cohen published her dossier “Towards a New Policy on Addiction” last Thursday. Brought together through collaboration with experts in the field, it bears witness to a consensus opinion on the failings of repression policies which have been in force since 2007 and advocates the logic of prevention

Around the Senate table on 12th July with Laurence Cohen were several experts who contributed to the construction of the dossier: sociologist Anne Coppel, the president of the French Association for Reduction (of risks associated with drug use), former director of the French Observatory of Drugs and Addicts – Jean-Michel Costes and Didier Touzeau, psychiatrist at the Paul-Guirard Hospital group.

“The war on drugs is failing”

The health professionals came to testify to the failings of a public policy which has been followed for the last 5 years in the fight against drug use. The majority right acted on a security-based logic, founded on repression and on number research which has been completely ineffective and maladaptive according to the signatories of the charter. Laurence Cohen explains, “This ‘war on drugs’ is failing – it reduces neither consumption nor trafficking and only fills courts and prisons” by punishing drug takers (who constitute 90% of the total number of arrests) and not dealers or traffickers.

Smoke and mirrors with no result, according to Didier Touzeau: “The policies of repression habitualized society to being falsely reassured by an ineffective politic which doesn’t treat the problem. It’s too easy to promote repressive policies that everyone agrees on because the goal is to eradicate the problem, but they are futile and expensive. The money would be better spent on rehabilitation and treatment”

Harm reduction rather than repression

For these experts, effective policy in the struggle against addiction, like those outlined in the charter, would prioritise not security but health: “We need policy that is not based on security and repression but which addresses harm reduction from infection and social perspectives which are linked to drug use rather than putting people in prison”, argues Jean-Michel Costes. He calls on the authorities to seek to “regulate drug consumption: we must get rid of the illusion that we are able to have a society without drugs.” The text presented by Laurence Cohen also calls for the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use (that is, suppression of criminal sanctions against users) without entirely legalising it (that would allow it to be consumed in public and for it to be commercialised, a disaster for health professionals).

Highlighting prevention

Taking the lead from what has been done in Switzerland, the charter advocates public action based on 4 pillars- reduction of availability, risk reduction, treatment and, most importantly, prevention. But, “not prevention as it is currently practiced – one hour-long lecture to schoolchildren. It has to be structured and planned – there is a lot to do,” warns Jean-Michel Costes

Laurence Cohen hopes that, with the government majority changing, the political classes will listen to the professionals on the ground who are saying that working with and treating addicts is more effective than prison. She is calling for a debate within society and the Etats Généraux about public policy surrounding the fight against drugs: “We wish only for this charter to act as a catalyst and become the subject of popular debate in the hands of the people.” The senator does not have a timetable for legislative change, but hopes for some evolution before the next 5 years are up.

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