All drug use should be decriminalised and possession made free from the threat of lengthy prison terms, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to health has said, criticising punitive sanctions on users.

In an open letter (pdf), Dainius Pūras throws down the gauntlet to governments with the claim that a focus on repressive drug control means they are failing to meet their treaty obligations to realise citizens’ rights to good health.

He argues that drug control policies, including punitive measures against drug users and dealers, drive many people away from health services and have led to epidemic levels of violence.

“At the root of many health-related problems faced by people who use drugs is criminalisation itself, which only drives issues and people underground and contributes to negative public and individual health outcomes,” Pūras writes.

“As a step towards the fulfilment of the right to health, drug use and possession should be decriminalised and de-penalised alongside increased investment in treatment, education and other interventions …”

The letter, dated Monday 7 December, is addressed to the executive director of the UN office on drugs and crime, Yury Fedotov, but it was mentioned to delegates at the reconvened 58th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which began on Wednesday morning in Vienna.

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