U.N. Drug Czar, Harm Reduction Advocate to Speak at Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Orleans

Press Release December 3, 2007
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384

NEW ORLEANS — On Thursday, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will deliver a keynote address at the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Orleans. Following his address, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, a leading advocate for policies that protect the health and human rights of people who use drugs, will address the audience . There will be a Q&A panel with Mr. Costa, Ms. Malinowska-Sempruch and others immediately following the keynotes, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. The panel will take questions and discuss the presentations and the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS): International Conventions on Narcotic Drugs, planned for 2009.

Costa, executive director of UNODC, will attend this year’s international drug policy reform conference. It is his first such appearance. UNODC assists the U.N. in addressing a coordinated, comprehensive response to illicit drug trafficking and drug abuse, crime prevention and criminal justice, international terrorism, and corruption. Costa, who has held the top UNODC position since 2002, has argued that the global drug problem is now being effectively contained throughout much of the world. In recent years, the UNODC has supported programs that include the provision of sterile needles and syringes for injecting drug users, and treatment with methadone and buprenorphine as substitution therapy for addiction to heroin and other opioid drugs. Currently, the medications are available to less than three percent of those in need worldwide.

Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Institute’s (OSI) International Harm Reduction Development program, argues that the “war on drugs” is fueling HIV/AIDS epidemics and other drug-related harms. The rise of HIV infections in at least 20 countries in Asia and Eastern Europe are now propelled by the use of contaminated needles and injection equipment. Outside Africa, nearly one in three new HIV infections are due to injection drug use, and injection-driven HIV epidemics in countries such as Russia are among the fastest growing in the world.

The keynote speeches will take place at the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel in New Orleans, LA. The conference, co-hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, with the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Marijuana Policy Project, and Students for Sensible Policy (SSDP) serves as the world’s principal gathering of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. Following an opening ceremony on Wednesday evening, activists, elected officials, scholars, students, drug treatment professionals, people in recovery and others will spend three days sharing, learning, connecting, and strategizing about drug policy reform issues. Some topics to be covered include: drug sentencing reform, addiction and treatment, issues of race and the drug war, drug testing, drug education and alternatives to the drug war.

More information on the International Drug Policy Reform Conference is available online at http://kessjones.com/conf07/

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