The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has officially announced its support for the decriminalization of all drugs and paraphernalia, a move that has earned praise from drug reform and harm reduction advocates. The decision, made by the APhA’s House of Delegates, makes it one of the largest medical associations in the US to endorse broad decriminalization. The new policy supports the decriminalization of personal possession or use of illicit drugs and paraphernalia, but opposes the legalization of non-medical use, sale, distribution, or possession of illicit drugs. The APhA also removed its prior policy supporting drug courts as an alternative criminal justice pathway for those with drug-related convictions.
Instead, the APhA now supports voluntary pathways for the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals who have been charged with possession or use of illicit drugs and who have substance use or other related medical disorders. Drug reform and harm reduction advocates have praised the APhA’s decision as a historic statement that recognizes the harm caused by criminalization and punishment.
Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Research and Academic Engagement, said that the APhA’s decision “strengthens pharmacists’ roles as public health professionals and is a critical step toward addressing rising overdose and hepatitis C infection rates.”
The APhA’s decision follows a trend of shifting public opinion toward health-focused harm reduction policies to combat the overdose crisis. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) have also endorsed broad drug decriminalization, with ASAM calling for the decriminalization of all currently illicit drugs in the interest of public health and racial equity. A strong majority of Americans, including most Republicans, support drug decriminalization, according to a poll released last year.
Lawmakers in several US states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, have filed drug decriminalization bills for the 2023 session. In 2021, congressional lawmakers filed the first-ever bill to federally decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, while also seeking to incentivize states to follow suit. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has said that the ongoing criminalization of people over drug use needs to end in order to effectively address substance misuse and the stigmatization of addiction.
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