Presenting author: Colleen Daniels
Presenting author biography:
Colleen is the Deputy Director and Public Health Lead at Harm Reduction International. She has 23 years’ experience as a Director, Project Manager, and Technical Advisor in HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, gender, human rights, challenging operating environments, harm reduction and community systems strengthening, working to deliver access to essential health services.
Decolonizing Drug Policy
Colleen Daniels, Naomi Burke-Shyne, Sam Shirley-Beavan, Tripti Tandon, Aggrey Aluso, Shaun Shelly, Kojo Koram, Imani Robinson
Globally, racism and structural inequities are exacerbated by the war on drugs. Drug control has been used to justify excessive surveillance, criminalization and targeting of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people around the world, and the war on drugs has provided the architecture within which racist laws, policies and practices can operate. This session seeks to raise awareness of the racism and colonialism underlying international drug control and its impact on the health and human rights of individuals and communities in order to begin to dismantle these destructive policies.
The war on drugs has failed in its stated goal of reducing drug use and sale and has instead resulted in a trail of trauma, pain and suffering for families and communities, with communities of color facing the harshest impact. Globally, Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and face discrimination across the criminal system. They face higher rates of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration for drug offenses, despite similar rates of drug use and selling across races. The war on drugs has provided the architecture within which racist and colonialist laws, policies and practices can operate. It must be replaced by strategies grounded in science, health, and human rights.
Overarching structural problems negatively affect access to health and harm reduction services. Racism and discrimination against Indigenous, Black, and Brown people results in low household incomes, unemployment, food insecurity, poor housing, and lower levels of education. This, in turn, results in worse health outcomes for these communities and in people from these communities disengaging or actively avoiding health services. Structural inequalities negatively impact the health of Indigenous people. This inequality has persisted since the arrival of Europeans and the beginning of colonialism, with newly imposed health care systems focusing primarily to serve those of European descent.