Brazil's Lula to Sign Drug Decriminalization Decree on Nov. 24

According to a report in today's Folha de São Paulo (subscription only), the government of Brazilian President Lula da Silva has reached a "consensus" to step forward into a bold new era of drug policy: decriminalizing the drug user, and opening 250 safe drug use centers across the country during the year 2005.

Lula is expected to sign an executive decree on November 24, taking drug enforcement responsibilities away from police agencies, and placing the problems of drug use under the jurisdiction of the Health Ministry, which will be charged with supporting the safe drug-use centers and make Harm Reduction - a policy to reduce the harms associated with drug use - the law of the land.

Here is an excerpt from today's report from Brazil's largest daily newspaper:

Policy proposal considers drug consumption as a public health problem, and no longer one for the police

The government wants to create centers for drug use

By Luciana Constantino and Iuri Dantas
Folha de São Paulo, Brasília Bureau

After a series of internal disagreements about drug policy, the federal government is preparing a realignment of national policy to define drug consumption as a public health problem, and not one for the police as it is today.

There will be a presidential order creating rules for treating drug dependents, with emphasis on Harm Reduction...

(More of the translation appears after the jump.)

The new focus will include a change in the name of the policy. It will be changed from "National Anti-Drug Policy" to "National Policy on Drugs."

"Changing the name is a symbol, and there will be a change in orientation. The country is maturing in order to put forward a more pragmatic policy," said Pedro Gabriel Delgado, the government's mental health coordinator.

The president's public safety secretary, General Jorge Armando Felix, has also endorsed the proposal. "Drug dependents are a public health problem. They should be treated as people like those with any other illness, particularly in the area of psychiatry, they need support and treatment."

Through this new lens, Lula will sign a presidential decree to regulate harm reduction programs, making possible a wider network of treatment for drug users and the creation of local centers for safe drug use. Before opening their doors, these centers will need authorization from the Health Ministry and will count with permanent support.

Preferably, the centers will be monitored by universities and dedicated to high risk users, such as those who use crack or inject cocaine.

The decree will create the role of Harm Reduction agent, a health professional who will be responsible for the direct contact with the users. And he, for example, will provide sterilized syringes…

Today, non-governmental organizations, with support from the health department, are already involved in Harm Reduction programs, but within the limits of legal prohibitions, thus there has been no regulation of this kind of work…

The goal for 2005 is the creation of 250 such local drug use centers around the country.
After much controversy and six public hearings in different states, the government will finalize the new policy on November 24th… The emphasis will be on demand and Harm Reduction.

According to the national drug czar, General Paulo Robero Uchoa, the government decided to put its efforts into combat against narco-trafficking, leaving the drug user to medical attention. "A drug is an inert thing. I don't combat penicillin… Now I combat trafficking. Drugs have to be understood to be able to educate and prepare society and the youth to not use drugs carelessly."

Translated from: Folha de São Paulo, 15 de novembro de 2004.

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Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.