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BBC News reports that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the Scottish government’s plan for introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol is contrary to European law if other tax options exist. The ECJ ruling said, "The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol." The legislation to bring in a minimum price of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) brought a legal challenge which argued the Scottish government's legislation breached European law. The ECJ also ruled that "The Court states that it is ultimately for the national court to determine whether measures other than that provided for by the Scottish legislation, such as increased taxation on alcoholic drinks, are capable of protecting human life and health as effectively as the current legislation, while being less restrictive of trade in those products within the EU." Both the SWA and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon have welcomed the ruling. Ms Sturgeon tweeted: "ECJ opinion on minimum pricing welcome. We believe it is most effective way of tackling alcohol misuse. National court will now decide.”
Philip Morris Asia Limited launched its challenge against the Australian government’s plain packaging laws in 2011, arguing that the ban on trademarks breached foreign investment provisions of Australia’s 1993 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Hong Kong. The tobacco company used the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism for its challenge, the first investor-state dispute brought against Australia. Australia argued that the claims under the Hong Kong agreement should not be valid because at the time Philip Morris Asia acquired its shares of Philip Morris Australia in early 2011, it was fully aware of the Australian government's 2010 decision to introduce plain packaging. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in December the Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal, based in Singapore, unanimously agreed with Australia's position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris's claim. The minister responsible for tobacco policy, Fiona Nash, said: “We welcome the unanimous decision by the tribunal agreeing with Australia’s position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris’s claim.”
Reuters reports that on 22 December the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a decree that legalizes the medical use of cannabis. Santos said, "We have just taken an important step to place Colombia in the vanguard of the fight against disease and we're doing it via a decree that seeks to take advantage of the benefits of cannabis to improve people's lives." "Allowing the use of marijuana does not go against our international commitments to control drugs or against our policy of fighting drug trafficking," Santos added. The decree establishes a procedure to expedite the issuing of licences for possession of cannabis seeds, as well as for establishing farm plots for the plant, provided that it is designated exclusively for medical and/or scientific purposes. "What we're seeking is for patients to be able to get access to drugs produced locally that are safe, of high quality and accessible. This is also an opportunity to promote scientific research in [Colombia]," Santos said.
A ruling by the European Court of Justice’s Advocate General in December dismissed legal challenges against EU plans to increase health warnings, ban menthol cigarettes and regulate electronic cigarettes. The Advocate General, Juliane Kokott, concluded that the EU Tobacco Products Directive of 2014 was lawfully adopted. Kokott’s court press statement said that the Directive is based on the correct legal basis for internal market harmonisation measures and does not infringe the principles of equal treatment, free competition, proportionality or the fundamental rights of manufacturers to conduct a business. Kokott said that the standardisation of the labelling and packaging of tobacco products is valid and that there is scope for Member States to go further in standardising tobacco packaging. She also argued that the rules of Article 20 of the Directive on the regulation of electronic cigarettes were proportionate and dismissed the challenge claims brought by e-cigarette manufacturer Totally Wicked. Most judgments of the European Court of Justice later endorse the position of advocate generals. Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said: “The advocate general’s opinion that standardised packaging of cigarettes is legal in Europe, one of the world’s big trading blocks, sets the scene for it to go global.”
The Irish Times reports that the Irish government approved additional provisions in the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 in December to allow for supervised injecting facilities and a pilot scheme will be set up in Dublin. Minister of State with responsibility for Drug Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said, “These facilities can help in harm reduction and alleviate some of the complex needs of a vulnerable and hard to reach group of addicts. They are not the only solution to addressing drug addiction but will play a significant role in reducing street injecting and drug related deaths.” Ó Ríordáin added, “I want to thank all of the agencies and bodies that have worked on bringing this proposal to fruition, in particular the Ana Liffey Drug Project.”
The Guardian reports that Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has granted a licence to Nicovations Limited, part of British American Tobacco, for its rechargeable electronic cigarette, e-Voke. This will allow the device to be marketed as a smoking cessation aid. “We want to ensure licensed nicotine-containing products -- including e-cigarettes -- which make medicinal claims are available and meet appropriate standards of safety, quality and efficacy to help reduce the harms from smoking,” the MHRA said. According to The Telegraph, Dr Tim Ballard, the vice-chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, called for more research to be carried out before patients are told they can get e-cigarettes on the NHS. "Potentially, there may be a place for the prescription of e-Voke as part of a smoking cessation programme, but GPs would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit," Dr Ballard said.
James MacKillop of McMaster University has won a 2015 American Psychological Association award in the category of Distinguished Early Career Scientific Contribution to Psychology in applied research. The citation reads “James MacKillop’s development and application of the hypothetical purchase task has allowed an understanding of the valuation of, and hence motivation to use, a commodity by determining how much a participant will consume as a function of price. His demonstration of the validity of this method in clinical studies has led to its increasing adoption in clinical research in the field of addiction.”
The election manifesto of the Liberal Party, recently elected in Canada, stated “We will legalise, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.” The new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to begin the process of legalizing and regulating cannabis in Canada by “working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health [to] create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”
A European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) Insight report provides an analysis of the available information on the prevalence and treatment of comorbid drug use and mental disorders in Europe, drawing on data provided by national focal points. The report also provides a review of the theoretical background of comorbidity and the main instruments available to assess comorbid mental disorders among drug users.
The Telegraph reports that alcohol prohibition will be introduced to Bihar in northern India from 1 April 2016. Bihar is India’s third-most populous state and the ban will affect nearly 100 million people. Bihar’s Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, said he was honouring the pledge he made to women’s groups ahead of recent state elections. “Women in the state started an anti-liquor campaign,” said Nitish Kumar, announcing the ban. Kumar added, “Increasing liquor consumption was a major cause for domestic violence, particularly against women, and had contributed to a rise in crimes.”
The court of The Hague has ruled against the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation in its case against the Dutch State over illegal contacts of the government with the tobacco industry and its lobby. The case argued that the Dutch government was not complying with Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The article requires that “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” The court judged that legally the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation is not in a position to request that the Dutch government complies with the article. But the Dutch government sent a policy document called ‘Clarification implementation Article 5.3 WHO-Framework Convention’ to both chambers of the Dutch Parliament just days before the case was heard. “Of course it is disappointing that the court didn’t rule otherwise, but nonetheless this case has yielded a lot” said Wanda de Kanter, co-founder and chair of the Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation. ‘Although the wording of the document is at some points a little vague, it is now written down how government at all levels – national, regional and local – must behave in relation to the tobacco industry. That document is here to stay, indifferent from today’s court ruling,” she added, and that ‘It means that from now on the doors of government are closed for the tobacco industry and its lobbyists.”
The Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a nasal-spray version of naloxone in November. The nasal version, commonly sold as Narcan, will make it easier to administer naloxone and less intimidating than the previously approved injectable form. “Combating the opioid abuse epidemic is a top priority for the FDA,” said Stephen Ostroff, Acting FDA Commissioner. “We cannot stand by while Americans are dying. While naloxone will not solve the underlying problems of the opioid epidemic, we are speeding to review new formulations that will ultimately save lives that might otherwise be lost to drug addiction and overdose.” Robert Childs, executive director for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, said the new nasal-naloxone model could be a "game changer for overall access."
The New Zealand Herald reports that the police in New Zealand attach conditions to the release to academics of publicly-owned crime data, which has led to a debate about academic freedom being under threat. The police contract with researchers includes an obligation for academics to show police a draft of their work and to work on "negative results" with police to "improve its outcomes" and threatens a "blacklist" for those not complying. The contract also grants police the "sole right to veto from release any project findings that relate to NZ Police or any privileged NZ Police information", with consideration to security issues or any potential impact on police inquiries, operations, prosecution or public safety. The New Zealand Green Party police spokesman David Clendon said Police Minister Michael Woodhouse and Justice Minister Amy Adams needed to explain why the police set such conditions. "Basic data about offending -- I would have thought that would be readily available," Mr Clendon said. The contract issue emerged in a disagreement between the police and University of Canterbury lecturer Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a criminologist seeking data on crimes committed near licensed liquor outlets in Christchurch. Dr Gilbert was denied access to the data because he was considered "associated with gangs." In a statement, police strategy deputy chief executive Mark Evans said police placed "a high value in academic research" and that the police had contacted Dr Gilbert to say "that further consideration will be given to our decision regarding the security clearance (police vetting) check." Mr Evans added, “Our priority is always to ensure that an appropriate balance is drawn between the privacy of individuals and academic freedom. To date, police have not prevented access by any academic under this clause in the agreement."
Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that growing, possessing and smoking cannabis is legal under the right of "free development of personality." The ruling comes in a case brought to the court by four people in the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use. The plaintiffs want to form a cannabis club and grow and smoke their own cannabis. According to Latino Fox News, if the court rules the same way on five similar petitions, it would then establish the precedent to change the law and allow general recreational use. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a speech that "for me, it would not be desirable, I am not in favor of an eventual legalization of marijuana.”
A new report from the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs examines how the benefits of opioid substitution therapy (OST) can be optimised to lead to better outcomes for service users. Based on existing research evidence and a survey of OST service users, the report reviews the factors that could improve OST outcomes and how resources could be prioritised to achieve better recovery outcomes (particularly overcoming dependence), employment and social reintegration in the light of the diminished financial resources available due to government funding restraints.
A report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reviews the research evidence for prevention. The report is a translation of a literature review for the German Federal Centre for Health Education published in 2013 and is based on existing reviews and meta-analyses. The report assesses effectiveness of a prevention measure by the measure’s effect on consumption behaviour. Among the report’s conclusions are that approaches based solely on information provision are ineffective, with more positive evidence for school-based life skills programmes and multi-component community programmes.
InSight Crime reports that illicit drug trafficking became a major issue in the recent Argentine presidential election, with the main candidates’ proposals reflecting growing public concern about the country’s growing involvement in the regional drug trade. Insight Crime notes that drug trafficking groups from countries such as Colombia have established themselves in Argentina, using the country as a transit point for drug shipments to Europe. Violence has accompanied this development, as criminal gangs vie for control of Argentina’s domestic drug market. While the outgoing Kirchner administration had sought to phase out military involvement in anti-drug trafficking initiatives, the presidential candidates proposed further militarisation of the response to drug trafficking.
The Guardian reports that the Australian government has finally released a report recommending reforms to alcohol advertising, but only after a freedom of information request was lodged by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). Before being abolished in 2014, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency gave the government its expert findings on the effectiveness of alcohol advertising regulatory codes in protecting children. The report recommended removing alcohol ads on television before 8.30pm during live sport on weekends and public holidays and that the government should legislate to control alcohol advertising and marketing if the industry failed to do so. The chief executive of FARE, Michael Thorn, said “If we have the government’s principal health advisory body saying that alcohol advertising is bad, one would hope that the government might act at a time when the industry is actively moving to expose children to even greater levels of alcohol advertising.”
President Barack Obama has told health care providers in the USA that access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid-related problems must be expanded. Obama released an order giving federal agencies with health care responsibilities 90 days to identify barriers to MAT and to report ways of removing them to the Directors of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Earlier in the year the ONDCP announced that drug courts which barred addicts from receiving MAT would no longer receive federal funding. The Huffington Post reports that Pamela Hyde, the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said "We've made that clear: If they want our federal dollars, they cannot do that," [of abstinence programmes that bar MAT]. "We are trying to make it clear that medication-assisted treatment is an appropriate approach to opioids." In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that the government would be rewriting regulations to increase access to buprenorphine.
BBC News reports that a leaked conference briefing paper on decriminalization from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was withdrawn. The paper had been prepared for a session at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Kuala Lumpur in October. The paper stated that “The international drug control conventions do not impose on Member States obligations to criminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption.” The briefing suggested that “Member States should consider the implementation of measures to promote the right to health and to reduce prison over-crowding, including by decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption,” arguing that "arrest and incarceration are disproportionate measures." A spokesperson for the UNODC commented that the briefing “is neither a final nor formal document from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy.”
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