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Norway’s Largest HIV Organization Ignores UN Recommendations on Drug Decriminalization

In the face of clear recommendations from both UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) that drug use should be decriminalized, Norway’s largest HIV organization has refused advocating such a measure.

An HivNorge statement made on December 22, 2015, read:

“We believe that limiting the use of penal measures for personal use and possession of drugs is correct. Addiction should be seen as a health issue, not as criminality. That does not mean HivNorge is in favor of an overall decriminalization of drugs, but a harm reduction approach.”

HivNorge’s statement is bizarrely self-contradictory. UN recommendations to decriminalize drugs are meant to remove fear and stigma so as to establish trust between users and health services. One does not achieve that goal through continued criminalization, even if penal measures are "limited" as HivNorge advocates.

A former head of the Norwegian anti-drug lobby is the current head of HivNorge which may explain their reluctance to shift stance. Furthermore, an anti-drug organization that purports to be a user organization but does not actually consist of people who use drugs, RIO, is among HivNorge’s member organizations. This could equally have influenced HivNorge's statement, though we can only speculate for now.

The so-called “alternatives to punishment” that the Norwegian government has implemented so far in no way solve the problem. Only one in three successfully complete drug court programs and the alternative is still prison if you’re not eligible to enroll, fail urine controls, or refuse entry. With relapse being a symptom of addiction, penalizing users for relapse seems unreasonable.

Steep fines, criminal records and sentences are still handed down to people who use drugs. How HivNorge can see addiction as a “health problem and not as criminality” without actually supporting decriminalization is a mystery. The UN recommendation is clear: “Countries should work towards laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and ban compulsory treatment.”

Civil society organizations, including ourselves, will continue to hold HivNorge to account for its failings.

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