Irish Penal Reform Trust

Rethinking the War on Drugs: Retired US Police Chief speaks on the failure of the drug war

28th August 2006

Rethinking the War on Drugs is a conference aimed at promoting debate on the policy of drug prohibition, and alternative approaches to reducing drug-related harms in Ireland.

The conference's keynote speaker will be Jerry Cameron, a spokesperson for the U.S. organisation Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). A police veteran with seventeen years experience, Cameron is a former Chief of Police as well as a former full time faculty member of the Institute of Police Technology and Management at the University of North Florida, where he taught drug interdiction. Toward the end of his career, Cameron began to question the efficacy as well as the morality of the war on drugs, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was a not only a total failure but that it was causing tremendous damage to society.

The conference is sponsored by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Merchants Quay Ireland and UISCE. Other speakers at the event will be Rick Lines, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and Ruardhri McAuliffe, Coordinator of Union for Improved Services, Communication and Education (UISCE), a peer support and education group for people who use drugs.

"Drugs and drug-related harm are a serious concern across Ireland," said Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchants Quay Ireland who is chairing the event. "This forum will be an opportunity to examine a side of that harm that rarely, if ever discussed.  The social harm that comes as a direct consequence of the war on drugs itself."

"By any measurable indicator, the international war on drugs that has been waged over the past 30 years is a failure," said Rick Lines of the IPRT.  "The use of illegal drugs has never been more prevalent, our prisons have never been fuller and injecting drug-related health concerns such as HIV and Hepatitis C infection continue to grow across the world.  Jerry Cameron's visit provides an opportunity to hear about these failures first hand from a former law enforcement official who has been on the front lines of waging this war."

"When the Government declares a war on drugs, it is effectively declaring war on its own citizens," said Ruardhri McAuliffee of UISCE. "The effects of this are the further marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs, driving many of them underground and away from the health and social services which could help them.  We need to begin rethinking whether this approach is helping or hindering efforts to reduce the harms of drug use on an individual and societal level."

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