(Transcript from World News Radio)
As Kerry Skyring reports from Vienna, where the meeting took place, nations debated whether the so-called “war on drugs” needs a ceasefire.
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Vienna’s Karlsplatz is a meeting point for underground train lines â¦ and the city’s drug addicts and their dealers.
In recent years, the problem has lessened but if you hang around for a while you can see people shooting cocaine or taking other drugs.
A 15 minute train ride from Karlsplatz, at the United Nations, the world is debating its drug problem.
Fifteen hundred delegates from most of the UN’s member states argue about the global rules on fighting: the sort of illegal drug dealing – and taking – that goes on at Karlsplatz.
They will decide whether the so-called war on drugs, as it’s been dubbed, continues or whether there might be a ceasefire.
Yuri Fedotov is the Director General of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Ahead of the meeting he called for a hard line on dealers but a soft line on users.
“To combine law enforcement with more focus on health; prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, integration, avoiding penalising drug users but rather considering them as victims, as people who need support and at the same time developing the program of prevention of drug addiction.”
At the same time as he’s delivering that message, Yuri Fedotov has to admit that despite the efforts to control illegal drugs, the battle is being lost in many countries.
Heroin has rarely been cheaper on the streets of cities like New York and Sydney.
He links that to what he says is an unprecedented harvest of opium poppies in Afghanistan.
“That is a record figure that has reached 210,000 hectares. They never had such a huge area of opium poppy cultivation even in the peak of production in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. So it means that producers and drug dealers are guided by the well-known principles of a market economy.”
Against this background, countries traditionally on the front line of the war against drugs are starting to desert.
Among those at this global meeting calling for an end to the conflict were Guatemala, Ecuador, Uruguay and Colombia.
Colombia’s Justice Minister, Alfonso Gomez, speaking through an interpreter, said the war on drugs just isn’t being won.
“The great drug cartels have mutated into smaller cartels that were feeding our armed conflict for years and now contribute to violence on the streets of our cities. The problem of illicit drugs has also had a significant impact on the legal economy.”
Outside a packed disco on Vienna’s Danube canal there’s a tent, and a sign which says “checkit!”
Young people come out of the disco and take their drugs into this mobile lab to check whether they’re safe to consume.
Sophie Lachout is there to help them.
“We have a tent out front here and the visitors come in and put their pills on the scales and the pills are photographed and weighed. And the visitor is given a piece of paper. Oh, we have another sample.”
The world’s drug czars, for want of a better title, decided to keep the existing international drug laws in place, so the war on drugs is not over.
But they did say there needs to be a new emphasis on public health and a move away from harsh punishment of users – something the host city seems to be doing.