Drug use, checking, and human rights | Karen Mamo

Already socio-economic poor and marginalised communities are further pushed towards a vicious cycle of discrimination, dehumanisation, and mistreatment

When looking at Maltese society one may observe a dichotomous approach reserved for the acceptance or condemnation of ‘certain’ drugs. In fact, the socially perceived harmless use and acceptance of a certain type of ‘drug’, such as alcohol, as opposed to ‘other drug use’, such as cocaine, continue to create a discordant relationship between public health, human rights, and drug policy.

Risks related to the health, social and legal well-being of the person are in part a reflection of the illegal environment in which these substances are manufactured and consumed. A lack of a regulated framework and the continued threat of incarceration for the non-violent offence of consuming, possessing, cultivating (manufacturing) or sharing drugs, exposes people to a number of ‘unintended negative consequences’.

Most worryingly, already socio-economic poor and marginalised communities are further pushed towards a vicious cycle of discrimination, dehumanisation, and mistreatment.

One may therefore highlight how a predominant moralistic and criminally based policy directly contributes to promote an environment of stigma and ignorance. Particularly, (i) how drugs interact with the body and mind, (ii) why people chose to use some drugs as opposed to other drugs, (iii) how problematic substance use develops, and (iv) how best to assist people who experience problematic substance use.

Furthermore, framing drug use and problematic drug use in society within a moralistic or threat-based philosophy, as opposed to a more comprehensive human centred understanding, foments a fertile environment for discrimination and human rights abuses.

‘‘All drug use presents benefits and risks, harm Reduction is here to minimise these risks”

Originally linked with people who use intravenous drugs such as heroin and cocaine, Harm and Risk Reduction, has in recent years expanded to include all drugs, and all people who use drugs. Therefore, the establishment of safe consumption rooms and the availability of safe injecting and smoking paraphernalia, the introduction of different decriminalised models, and the non-commercial regulation of cannabis (taking place closer to our European region), have been instrumental to promote the dignity and the rights of people who use drugs.

Studies demonstrate that an indication of potency and testing for unwanted synthetic substances result in positive behavioural changes by opting to reduce intake or by discarding the synthetic drug altogether. Various organisations such as Energy Control in Spain, DanceSafe in the USA, and The Loop in the UK, provide drug checking services and important educational outreach campaigns.

Furthermore, they also offer an early warning system whereby the pharmacological composition and picture of high potency or synthetic drugs are uploaded, shared, and categorised on various social media platforms, thus warning users of potential risks.

‘‘Such as seatbelt reduce fatal injury for drivers, drug checking services reduce the potential of overdose
or the ingestion of unwanted substances.”

Drug policies founded on human rights, and therefore inclusive of legislative and regulatory tools advancing full respect for the dignity and rights of people who use drugs, have been directly linked with positive health and social outcomes.

The availability of drug checking at music festivals across Europe, Australia, and the Americas, is an example of a sound scientific practice and humane legislative response applied to the social phenomenon of recreational drug use.

Although the checking of drugs in festivals is not yet legal in Malta, it is not illegal to buy online a drug checking kit to test your own drugs. Watch out! Testing your friends’ drugs could get you into trouble.