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Clean needles a vital part of anti-drug policy

091006_06
Users of injected drugs sleep at Korsang’s drop-in centre in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district.

Dear Editor,

Chansokhy Anhaouy makes at least two important errors in her letter published under the title “Drug users need tough love, not needle exchange” (October 2). First is the conflation of “law” as defined by majority opinion with acting “morally” for the public good. History is littered with despicable acts carried out under claims that they are what the people wanted. In contrast, modern democratic legal systems – and indeed the foundations of international human rights law – rest on recognition of, and explicit protections for, the rights of minorities. The author further confuses the issue with her statement that “the law [is] made for and by the majority”. Though laws are rightly created through majority or consensus vote, doing so does not absolve the state from respecting universal rights and freedoms owned by all citizens, including people who use illegal drugs.

Second, the author displays a deep misunderstanding of how the cities of New York and Vancouver have dealt with drug use. In fact, during roughly the past eight years, both cities have committed to a broadly similar strategy, combining strong support for needle exchange and other services for people who continue to use drugs, improving access to addiction treatment and law enforcement. In New York, more than a dozen organisations similar to Korsang receive funding from the city council and the state of New York, and have the endorsement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who early in his tenure directed the department of health to seek ways to expand syringe exchange services. Vancouver, meanwhile, is widely regarded as an international model for drug policy. Far from the author’s unsupported claim that “things have gotten worse as millions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into a [needle exchange] programme that does not work”, Vancouver’s programmes are backed by large-scale scientific studies that show them to be having a positive impact, and which have led to continued support from the Vancouver city and British Columbia provincial governments.

Matt Curtis
New York

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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