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Between 162 million and 324 million people, or 3.5 per cent and 7.0 per cent of the world population, aged 15-64 used an illicit in 2012 according to the 2014 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). These were similar figures to 2011 and the prevalence of problem drug use also remained stable at between 16 million and 39 million people. Launching the report, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, said ‘There remain serious gaps in service provision. In recent years only one in six drug users globally has had access to or received drug dependence treatment services each year’ and highlighted the estimated 183,000 drug-related deaths that had occurred in 2012.
Introducing a series of articles on cannabis, The New York Times editorial board said in its July 27, 2014 edition that the federal government should legalize cannabis for adults aged 21 years and older. The editorial board said its inspiration came from the recent moves by states to reform their cannabis legislation and that national legalization would allow states to make their own decisions about the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. The editorial compares federal cannabis policy with the failure of alcohol prohibition and draws attention to the harmful effects of the current laws ‘on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals’. The editorial continues that for cannabis ‘we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults’. In a response the White House said ‘the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem’, but ‘we as policy makers cannot ignore the basic scientific fact that marijuana is addictive and marijuana use has harmful consequences. Increased consumption leads to higher public health and financial costs for society’.
The Telegraph reports that the Administrative Court of Cologne has ruled that some people suffering from chronic pain should be able to cultivate their own cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Five people with chronic pain and other health problems brought the complaint to the court. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) refused the patients permission to grow cannabis at home but the court said the BfArM had to reconsider three of the requests that it had rejected. The patients all had permits to buy and consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes from a pharmacy but wanted to cultivate their own because they could not afford to purchase the drug produced by the Dutch company Bedrocan and their health insurance did not cover it. Dr Franjo Grotenhermen, chairman of the German Association for Cannabis as Medicine, said ‘We have reasons to believe that the Federal Government will appeal the ruling before the Higher Administrative Court in Munster and that a final decision may only be achieved before the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig’.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published guidance on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, bringing together all existing guidance relevant to five key populations: men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons and other closed settings, sex workers and transgender people. The guidelines ‘aim to: provide a comprehensive package of evidence-based HIV-related recommendations for all key populations; increase awareness of the needs of and issues important to key populations; improve access, coverage and uptake of effective and acceptable services; and catalyze greater national and global commitment to adequate funding and services’.
The Guardian reports that a jury in Florida has awarded the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer 18 years ago record punitive damages of more than $23bn against America's second-biggest cigarette maker, RJ Reynolds. Cynthia Robinson, of Pensacola, sued RJ Reynolds in 2008 over the death of her husband, Michael Johnson, claiming the company had conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products. The jury also awarded a compensatory payout of $7.3 million to Robinson and $9.6 million to the couple’s son. J. Jeffery Raborn, the vice president and assistant general counsel for RJ Reynolds, said in a statement quoted by The New York Times that the company planned to challenge ‘this runaway verdict’. Robinson’s lawyer Chris Chestnut responded ‘This wasn't a runaway jury, it was a courageous one’. He said jurors appeared to have been swayed by evidence of the company's aggressive marketing of tobacco products, particularly promotions aimed at young people, and by its claims that it was Johnson's choice to smoke. “They lied to Congress, they lied to the public, they lied to smokers and tried to blame the smoker” Chestnut said.
The Guardian reports that opiate substitution programmes set up in Crimea when it was part of Ukraine have been closed following Russian annexation of Crimea earlier this year. The Russian Federation does not permit opiate substitution, leaving over 800 patients in the Crimea without treatment. One methadone user in Sevastopol, Sergei Kislov, told Associated Press ‘It is happening at such a pace that it's going to be a massacre here…they're abandoning 130 people and forcing them to fend for themselves, even if that means we'll end up stealing again and going to jail’. In an interview reported by AFP Pavlo Skala, with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, said "According to our information, at least 20 people have already died there from various reasons, such as chronic disease, overdose, suicide, but no-one will provide us with actual death certificates".
The University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) has received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop a National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS). The system will scan social media and Web platforms to identify new trends as well as draw on national and local data resources. ‘NDEWS will generate critically needed information about new drug trends in specific locations around the country so rapid, informed, and effective public health responses can be developed precisely where needed’ said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow. Dr Volkow continued “By monitoring trends at the local level, we hope to prevent emerging drug problems from escalating or spreading to surrounding regions’.
BBC News reports that The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said that new psychoactive substances that mimic the effects of cannabis cannot be classed as medicinal. The ECJ was asked by Germany's Federal Court to clarify the classification of such drugs after two German vendors were convicted for selling unsafe medicinal products. The two could not have been prosecuted under anti-drug laws because at that time synthetic cannabinoids were not illegal. The ECJ said the term ‘medicinal product’ cannot apply to ‘substances which simply have the effect of modifying physiological functions but are not such as to have any immediate or long-term beneficial effects on human health’. The case now goes back to the German courts. ECJ rulings are binding across the European Union.
Low-level drug offences should be decriminalised in West Africa, according to a report from The West Africa Commission on Drugs, chaired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. The report says that drug cartels are undermining the region by using it to transit cocaine. The report, commissioned by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, estimates that the annual trade in cocaine through West Africa is now worth $1.25bn (£744m). The commission says the cartels should be tackled but that punishing the personal use of drugs does not work and that current policies incite corruption and provoke violence. The report concludes ‘West Africa would remove a huge weight from an already overburdened criminal justice system if it were to decriminalise drug use and possession, expand health and social services for those with problematic use, and expend greater efforts on pursuing traffickers’.
The Journal reports that the Irish government introduced a bill in June which will remove any branding such as trademarks, logo, colours and graphics from cigarette packets, making Ireland the first country in the European Union to introduce standardised packaging on cigarette packets. ‘This represents a significant step forward in our tobacco control policy and our goal of being a smoke free country by 2025’ said Minister for Health James Reilly. The new laws will have guidelines about the design and appearance of tobacco products: the only branding information will be the name of the brand and the variant name, both of which will be done in the same typeface on all packets. The packets will have graphic warnings and texts about the damage caused by smoking. Minister Reilly said that one of his key goals is to prevent young people from starting to smoke. ‘Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, it is not acceptable to allow the tobacco industry to use deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure our children into this deadly addiction and to deceive current smokers about the impact of their addiction’ he said.
BBC News reports that the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said the start of legal cannabis sales in his country will be delayed until next year due to "practical difficulties". Sales of cannabis in state-owned pharmacies were planned to begin at the end of 2014 but Mr Mujica said that "If we want to get this right we are going to have to do it slowly". "We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount," he added.
Reuters reports that WHO's director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, said she had advised China's tobacco monopoly to separate the government agency functions from the state tobacco firm. Dr Chan said that the government must separate the conflicting promotion and prevention roles of its state tobacco monopoly to reduce smoking-related deaths. China's State Tobacco Monopoly Administration controls the world's single largest manufacturer of tobacco products, China National Tobacco Corporation, but also has a major role in policymaking on tobacco control and enforcement. "I believe the Chinese government will implement [this change] step by step, according to their procedure," Chan told a news conference at the end of an official visit to China.
In July, as part of a ‘Responsibility Deal’, UK ministers and alcohol industry representatives agreed a series of pledges that they argue will reduce drink-related harm. The pledges include producers ending the production of super-strength products in large cans, retailers committing to the responsible display and promotion of alcohol in shops and supermarkets, and pubs and bars ensuring they stock house wines below 12.5% ABV and promote lower-alcohol products to customers. The alcohol industry will also expand partnership schemes to the Local Alcohol Action Areas, which were launched by the government in February, and there will be a new initiative to address street drinking. The alcohol industry will also provide £250,000 for alcohol education programmes in schools. Voluntary agreements of this kind have historically not led to significant mitigation of public harm and the measures being proposed in this case are untested whereas interventions to increase price and reduce availability have a strong evidence base. In June 2011 we noted that six health organisations decided not to sign up to the Responsibility Deal. They had reservations about proposed alcohol pledges and thought the Responsibility Deal prioritised alcohol industry views. The Guardian reports that officials at one of the government departments involved with the new agreement were told by the Prime Minister’s office to delay placing details of it on the department’s website until the day after the meeting was held. A source said that the Prime Minister’s office was following the main governing party’s strategy for 2015 to focus on the ‘long-term economic plan’ and downplay policies and projects that distract from the core message. The source said: ‘No. 10 seems reticent to do anything publicly on tackling alcohol problems’.
The US National Drug Control Strategy 2014 continues the approach of the Obama administration’s earlier strategies with an emphasis on early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, effective law enforcement, and international cooperation. While the overall framework, goals, and agency responsibilities set out in Obama’s first Strategy remain in effect, the 2014 Strategy attempts to address issues such as declining perceptions of harm and increases of use of cannabis among young people, problem opioid use disorders and new synthetic drugs. The strategy has goals to be attained by 2015 including a decrease in the 30-day prevalence of drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds by 15 percent and a reduction of drug-induced deaths by 15 percent.
The Washington Post reports that a bill signed into law by the Republican Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam in April explicitly criminalizes drug abuse while pregnant. The law came into effect in July and will remain in effect until 1 July 2016. While other US states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, Tennessee is the first state to adopt this criminalization approach. The new law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant". Supporters of the new law say its aim is to protect babies but a coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the Tennessee legislature. US drug czar Michael Botticelli commented during a visit to Nashville: "Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction", and added, "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders". State health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone or buprenorphine maintenance would not be in violation of it, but treatment experts have pointed out that there is no language in the law that explicitly says that.
Legislation to ban smoking in all cafes and bars narrowly passed in the lower house of the Dutch parliament in July. Currently, cafes and bars smaller than 70 square metres and which are run by their owners and without staff to protect from second-hand smoke are exempt from the smoking ban introduced in 2008. Junior health minster Martin van Rijn has pledged to close this loophole and hopes to introduce the change in the law in 2014.
In May, French Social Affairs and Health Minister Marisol Touraine signalled her intention to introduce legislation for plain packaging of cigarettes. The French system would follow the example set by Australia and would only allow a brand name in small lettering under a large health warning. Plain packaging would be one of a number of measures to curb smoking, including a ban on using e-cigarettes in public places. Meanwhile in the UK, The Guardian reports that the UK government is embarking on a further, short public consultation and negotiations with the European Union, which will take about six months, before plain packaging plans are enacted in the UK. This consultation is thought to be necessary to help the government defeat any legal moves to delay or outlaw plain packaging by tobacco firms.
The European Union is a signatory to the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which obliges governments to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur. The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, is to investigate the European Commission's failure to properly implement these rules following a complaint submitted by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). European Commission officials have had numerous meetings with tobacco industry lobbyists wanting to influence the EU's Tobacco Products Directive and many of these meetings were not disclosed online. The European Commission claims its approach is "compatible" with the WHO rules, but CEO's complaint argues that the Commission is violating its treaty obligations.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reports that 81 new psychoactive substances (NPS) were identified in 2013 compared with 73 in the previous 12 months. There was also “emerging new evidence” that synthetic cathinones such as mephedrone are being injected. However, although heroin initiation is in decline in Europe, most of the costs related to drug treatment relate to caring for those with problems resulting from the heroin ‘epidemics’ of the 1980s and 1990s. Online interactive analyses accompany the report providing insights into six topical issues, including cannabis markets in Europe, Internet-based drug treatment and the results of a new study which analysed waste water from the sewage system of a number of European cities for the residue of illegal drugs. The information package is completed by the European Drug Report: Data and statistics and Country overviews offering national-level data and analyses.
An open letter signed by 53 researchers and public health specialists calls on the World Health Organization (WHO) to "resist the urge to control and suppress e-cigarettes", suggesting that e-cigarettes could be a "significant health innovation". The letter is a response to a leaked document from a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) preparatory meeting indicating that the WHO considers e-cigarettes a “threat” to public health. BBC News reports that WHO said it was still deciding what recommendations to make to governments. A WHO spokesperson said that WHO is “working with national regulatory bodies to look at regulatory options, as well as toxicology experts, to understand more about the possible impact of e-cigarettes and similar devices on health."
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2 - 4 September 2014, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
8 - 11 September 2014, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia.
11 - 13 September 2014, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
14 - 18 September 2014, Madrid, Spain.
14 - 16 September 2014, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
18 - 19 September 2014, Warsaw, Poland.
26 September 2014, Vilnius, Lithuania.
27 September - 1 October 2014, Seattle, Washington, USA.
2 - 6 October 2014, Yokahama, Japan.
3 October 2014, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
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15 - 18 October 2014, Washington, DC, USA.
16 - 18 October 2014, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
18 - 21 October 2014, Berlin, Germany.
6 - 8 November 2014, San Francisco, California, USA.
6 - 7 November 2014, Geelong, Australia.
7 - 11 November 2014, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
9 - 12 November 2014, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
10 - 12 November 2014, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
11 November 2014, Dublin, Ireland.
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15 - 19 November 2014, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
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27 - 28 November 2014, Brussels, Belgium.
5 - 7 December 2014, Aventura, Florida, USA.
5 - 8 February 2015, Los Angeles, California, USA.
4 - 6 March 2015, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.
28 March - 1 April 2015, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
17 - 20 April 2015, Barcelona, Spain.
17 - 20 May 2015, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
13 - 18 June 2015, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
17 - 19 June 2015, Lisbon, Portugal.
18 - 19 June 2015, Scotland, UK.
22 - 25 August 2015, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
7 - 9 October 2015, Melbourne, Australia.