Italy breaks ranks

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marco PerducaMarco Perduca and Donatella Poretti, senators of the Radical Party have asked the Italian under-secretary on drug issues, Carlo Giovanardi, if it is true that Italy has  abandoned the common position of the European Union on harm reduction in the negotiations for the Political Declaration for the High-level Segment of the 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. They requested an explanation from the under-secretary why and on what grounds this happened.

The past weeks, the EU has tried to include harm reduction approaches in the political declaration but this has led to a stalemate at the negotiations. Apparently, Italy has now broken ranks with the rest of the EU.

According to the website of the Radical Party, Perduca and Poretti question the current position of the Italian government:

According to unofficial news about the negotiations behind closed doors to prepare the 52nd of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the Italian delegation is now opposing the common position taken by the European Union on harm reduction. This obstruction not only dispel the years of work carried out within the European Union in an attempt to merge the different approaches and experiences in harm reduction, but greatly weakens the credibility of the EU within the United Nations with regard to drug addiction treatment.
Perduca and Poretti wonder whether:
these advances reflect the actual position held by the Italian delegation during the negotiations

and if confirmed, what would be the counter-proposals made by the Italian delegation and the scientific background on which they rely
Both senators feel it is not appropriate to block the approach, based on best practices widely documented in other EU member states.

Meanwhile, the US delegation involved in negotiating the Political Declaration issued a public statement on the US position. Although it endorses needle exchange and ‘access to medication-assisted treatment’ (i.e. opioid substitution treatment), it still described the term "harm reduction" as ambiguous. According to the statement, harm reduction “is interpreted by some to include practices that the United States does not wish to endorse or see included in UNGASS documents, not in the Political Declaration nor in the Plan of Action.”

Now that Italy has broken ranks with the EU, the attempts to have successful harm reduction approaches accepted at the CND, are severely weakened. Other UN bodies already recognize the considerable body of strong and consistent evidence on the effectiveness of harm reduction approaches.

Despite several interventions by other international agencies, such as Michel Sidibé of UNAIDS and Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in support of harm reduction approaches, some delegations – notably the US, the Russian Federation and Japan – keep opposing harm reduction on ideological grounds rather to accept the evidence-based assessment of the effectiveness of harm reduction.