Evidence-Informed Drug Policy and Action… Highlights Of The CRISA 13th Biennial International Conference.

The call for evidence-based approach to drug control is fast gaining momentum globally with a critical mass of advocates recommending that drug use be considered a public health and human rights issue instead of one for the criminal justice system. This begs the question, what really is a public health approach to drug control? This was the crux of the matter at the CRISA 13th Biennial International Conference on ‘Drugs, Alcohol and Society in Africa, themed: Substance Use and Sustainable Development in Africa: Strengthening the Evidence Base for Policy and Action, which held in Abuja, Nigeria 19- 20 September, 2018.

Dr. Joann Csete; Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA in her keynote address at the conference, emphasized the essence of a balanced approach in the formulation of drug policy with more focus on the health and human rights of persons who use drugs. The punitive nature of dominant drug policies does not address the rising challenges associated with drug use. She considered most treatment and rehabilitation strategies employed as faulted and characterized by violation of human rights and low-funding or support from governments.   She emphasized the need to integrate a public health-based approach in drug policy reforms, introducing and supporting alternative use for ‘dependent’ drug users, and supervised drop-in-centers that are accessible to persons who inject drugs in order to mitigate overdose and prevalence of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The conference also featured a presentation on the Model Drug Law for West Africa by Adeolu Ogunrombi, Project Coordinator YouthRISE Nigeria, and Regional Coordinator for West African Drug Policy Network. He explained that the document which was recently launched in Dakar, Senegal, is expected to serve as a resource for policy makers and governments in Africa towards drug policy reform that adopt alternative to incarceration as a drug control measure.

Through five plenary and concurrent sessions held respectively, the conference covered insightful research paper presentations and discussions. This engaged Academics, Civil Society Organizations, health professionals, relevant government agencies, students and international organizations to address the challenges related to drug use, lapses in existing drug policies, and offer recommendations towards drug policy reform in Africa. YouthRISE Nigeria also used this opportunity to enlighten participants on the ‘We Are People’ campaign designed to address the stigma and discrimination faced by People who use drugs.

With exposures and insights gained from the conference, the ripple effects of drug use and the need for evidence-based drug policies in tackling drug related challenges, cannot be overemphasized. Hence, the need to promote drug policy reform that is; evidence based, public health and human rights centered.