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Senior Canadian health official calls for decriminalisation of all drugs

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Toronto’s chief medical officer Eileen de Villa has called on the Canadian government to decriminalise the possession of all drugs for personal use.

In a report that is due to be considered by the city’s health board later this month, De Villa recommends that all legal penalties for drug possession should be scrapped, and that more resources should be made available to fund prevention, harm reduction and treatment services.

Arguing that research on Canada’s current approach to illegal drugs strongly supports the need to shift focus from criminalisation to public health, De Villa said: “While considerable work has been done, the situation remains urgent and too many people are still dying.

“Not only do Canada’s drug laws need to be changed, but we need to scale up prevention, harm reduction and treatment services to ensure we can provide the supports that people require.”

Noting how evidence suggests the criminalisation of people who take drugs is fuelling Canada’s spiralling opioid crisis, De Villa posits that prohibition pushes users into harmful practices and prevents them from seeking help and treatment.

Calling on the federal government to establish a task force of experts to explore the possible legal regulation of all drugs in Canada, De Villa’s report observes how drug use among vulnerable populations in Portugal fell after the country’s government decriminalised personal use and possession.

The report calls for the task force to include drug users, and policy, research and programme experts in the areas of public health, human rights, substance use, mental health and criminal justice.

Publication of the report comes after Canada last month became only the second country in the world to legalise the recreational use of marijuana after the Cannabis Act cleared its final legislative hurdle in the Canadian Senate.

In December last year, Norwegian politicians voted overwhelmingly in favour of decriminalising all drug use.

Rather than legalising the possession and consumption of narcotics, the model of decriminalisation supported by Norwegian MPs would shift responsibility for dealing with substance abusers from law enforcement authorities and the judicial system to healthcare providers.

Stressing that the vote was just a starting point and that legislation to decriminalise drugs in Norway was still a long way off, MPs said the majority of lawmakers have a desire to stop punishing people who struggle with substance abuse and instead offer them support and treatment.

Speaking with Newsweek after the vote, a spokesperson for the Norwegian parliament said: “The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform. It has started a political process.”

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Global UN-backed crackdown on illicit tobacco comes into force in September

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A treaty backed by the UN intended to disrupt the global illicit trade in tobacco products will come into force on 25 September, marking the introduction of a range of new measures agreed by a coalition of nations in response to the growing illegal cross-border trade in counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products was developed as a response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says is a significant threat to public health.

In a document outlining the scope of the treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control explains how the illegal trade in tobacco products boosts access to and lowers the price of cigarettes, thus fuelling the tobacco epidemic and undermining tobacco control policies.

According to the UN, the overnight elimination of the global illicit trade in tobacco would result in governments across the globe receiving an immediate revenue boost of at least $31 billion.

Elsewhere, studies have suggested that ending black market sales of tobacco products could save in excess of 160,000 lives a year from 2030.

To date, 45 countries and nations from the European Union have ratified the treaty, but the UN has said it expects many others to do so over the course of the coming months.

The treaty aims to secure the supply chain of tobacco products, and will require the establishment of a global tracking and tracing regime within five years.

Other provisions to ensure control of the supply chain cover licensing, due diligence, record keeping, and security and preventive measures, as well as measures in relation to online and telecommunication-based sales, duty free sales, and free zones and international transit.

Commenting on the treaty, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The illicit trade of tobacco products creates a shadowy market that not only destroys health, but also fuels organised crime and deprives governments of tax revenues.”

Speaking after the British government ratified the treaty last month, the Exchequer Secretary to the UK Treasury Robert Jenrick said: “Illicit tobacco costs the UK economy £2.5 billion ($3.25 billion) a year. That is why we are cracking down on this unlawful trade, which denies vital funding for our public services and can lead to health risks.

“The introduction of these new global standards will build on our work to make it harder for organised criminal gangs to profit in the future.”

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Irish health authority launches cocaine harm reduction campaign

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Ireland’s health service has launched a new harm reduction campaign for cocaine and crack users as use of the two drugs soars in the country.

The new HSE campaign is intended to educate users on how to reduce the potential harm associated with snorting, smoking or injecting the drug.

Speaking after it was revealed that use of crack cocaine in particular has been on the rise in and around the city of Dublin, Irish drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne said the effort is designed to be more of a health warning “rather than preaching to people” who use drugs.

Data from the HSE suggests that Ireland is ranked fourth in the EU when it comes to per-capita usage of cocaine, and that three out of every 10 people in the country aged between 15 and 64 say they have used illicit drugs at some point in their lifetime.

While the campaign stresses that it is always the safest option not to consume illegal drugs of any type in the first place, HSE warns users to only buy cocaine from trusted dealers, not to mix the drug with alcohol, and to always carry a condom while high due to the effect cocaine has on people’s sex drive.

Crack users are advised not to use homemade pipes, avoid smoking whole rocks, and to seek professional help if they feel depressed after coming down.

“This is a very important campaign, focusing on providing information and raising awareness about cocaine among drug users and health professionals,” Byrne commented.

“Recent figures which show an increase in those seeking treatment for cocaine use is of real concern.

“This evidence supports what we are hearing from some services on the ground that cocaine use, and in particular crack cocaine use, is on the rise.”

At the end of May, Ireland’s Health Research Board (HRB) revealed that the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine use had risen by 70% since 2012.

Commenting on the sharp rise in the numbers of people seeking help over their use of the drug, Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher at the HRB, said: ‘Since 2014 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of cases reporting cocaine as a main problem drug, rising from 8% (708 cases) of all cases in 2013 to 12% (1,138 cases) of all cases in 2016. This rise is seen in both new and previously treated cases.

“There has been an increase in the proportion of cases who were female, from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2016.”

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Police shoot two rhino poachers dead in South African nature reserve

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A pair of suspected poachers have been shot dead during a gun battle at the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga, a province in eastern South Africa

The two wildlife criminals were killed during the shootout with police on Saturday evening, during which one officer was injured.

A police spokesperson said specialist investigators were dispatched to track the two suspects down just after 21:00, resulting in an exchange of fire that ended with the death of the alleged poachers.

Officers at the scene recovered a rifle fitted with a silencer.

News24 quotes police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo as saying: “The team involved in Saturday night’s incident must be praised for having put their lives on the line, as do many of our police officers on a daily basis to protect life and property.

“One of our members was shot and wounded in the leg, and two poachers were shot and killed. No arrests have been made as yet in connection with this particular incident.”

Naidoo added that local police are committed to helping communities protect the country’s nature reserves, which are regularly targeted by poachers.

Following the poachers’ deaths, the South African Police Service (SAPS) promised to continue its efforts to fight wildlife crime across the country.

“We continue to call upon our communities to support the South African Police Service in our effort to protect the natural resources of our country, so that our children and children’s children can enjoy them for generations to come,” it said in a statement.

News of the poachers’ demise came just weeks after at least two members of a wildlife crime gang were killed and eaten by a pride of lions after they broke into the Sibuya Game Reserve in Eastern Province, South Africa.

Workers at the park found the remains of the poachers alongside a number of guns and an axe in the reserve’s lion enclosure.

It is thought the men had broken into the park with the intention of killing rhinos and stealing their horns.

In a statement, Sibuya reserve owner Nick Fox said the poachers had come prepared with a powerful rifle along with a with a silencer, an axe, wire cutters and food supplies for a number of days.

Rhino horn is widely sought after in a number of countries in Asia, where many people wrongly believe it has medicinal properties that are able to cure a range of conditions from a hangover to cancer.

Rhino horn can fetch nearly $100,000 per kilo on the black market, making it more valuable to criminals than drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or even gold.

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