We all wish for our loved ones to be safe and kept within a circle of protection, but what if we’re actively placing more harm than good on our nearest and dearest? What if our drug laws can be summarised with one simple voice – the voice of Anyone’s Child?

Global drug laws are a tricky thing to contemplate. Our emotive selves can often override facts and evidence. It’s easy to think in conceptual terms, to ponder on hypotheticals and disengage from reality, but when faced with a steely authenticity from an up-close perspective, it forces us to think in immediate and non-theoretical terms.

Following recent international trends, the UK has more drug related deaths and hospital admissions than ever before with 3,674 people having died from drug misuse in 2015 alone. Drug use has a history of being higher within youthful circles than the population as a whole. These are not mere numbers, these are not cold facts; this is a family’s fateful reality. For every drug death that we have on record, that’s a visit from the police to notify you that a treasured family member has passed away. 

In Mexico, some families will not even receive notification – a drug related death will just be put down to the ever escalating ‘war on drugs’ that’s seen over 150,000 killed as a result of an increased destabilisation of the country, due to the drug cartels and the entrenched and hard to segregate military response. It is now direfully commonplace for families to lose members to the ever sprawling chaos of the drug war.

It’s estimated that over 50,000 children have lost one or more parents in violence related to Mexico’s illegal drug trade, and nearly 23,000 young people have also been recruited into organised crime. There’s a circular pattern to the issue: The drugs trade becomes a lucrative layer of financial and societal protection for those who are left most vulnerable due to the fallout of the drug war. Mexico’s literal drug war will continue to be an unbreakable cycle, fuelled by abject despair. For a wider look at Mexico’s drug war picture, see the new interactive documentary.

To some, it may appear reasonable to ban drugs and to place criminal restrictions on every tier of the trade in order to protect our loved ones, but turning adversity into inspiration, voices from the UK, Mexico, Kenya, the US, Canada, and Afghanistan, are all are calling out in unison to challenge the conventional thinking that has led us to such a fated position. It’s difficult to become inspired when we’re faced with such negative consequences from our international drug laws, but the members of the global organisation Anyone’s Child, a group composed of bereaved family members, certainly make the most compelling case for comprehensive drug reform. Family and friends who have had to face the worst imaginable fear of losing someone to drugs, instead of looking to crackdown harder, they have chosen to follow the evidence and are now calling for the control and regulation of all drugs – a prospect that is not as scary as it may at first sound. 

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Anyone's child

Around 44.6 in every million people die of drug overdose in the UK, in contrast around three in every million die in Portugal. So what’s the difference between these two countries? The UK operates on a drug control system of criminalisation and prohibition. Each year, the UK government spends around £1.46 billion on punishing drug users and suppliers. In contrast it spends just £7 million annually on education and information campaigns about drugs. Portugal, however, places near full emphasis on health and treatment since they decriminalised all drugs in 2001. The figures speak for themselves, but if we value the lives of our young and vulnerable members of society then care and compassion works better than punishment. There have also been many cases of teenagers being reluctant to call for medical assistance when their friends have overdosed; this is often matched with fatal results and the loss of another child.

If aloof facts and figures aren’t enough to present a case for reform, then we have to also look at the consequences of the criminal justice system itself. If your loved one happened to suffer with an addiction, would you prefer they received help and medical expertise, or would you err towards a prison cell and a criminal record? A dalliance with the criminal justice system has long-term repercussions. Chances of employment are hindered, housing, travel, education, all crippled if an individual has a drug charge to their name.

We know that the threat of criminal record doesn’t dissuade drug use, but it can at the very least hinder someone’s prospects, and it certainly makes sense that fear of stigma and prosecution will deter your loved one from seeking help if they happened to suffer with a dependency to a substance. We almost certainly would not contemplate punishment for a family member who has experienced alcoholism, and yet we are still anchored to a bygone mind-set of punishment to other drug addictions. 

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Anyone's child

It really is a case that addiction or drug consumption can be associated with any one of our families. Anyone’s Child is an integral organisation of unified voices who have collectively experienced the gamut of harms associated with our current drug laws: children that have died due to overdose, brothers and sisters who have silently suffered with their own addictions with tragic consequences, or loved ones who have been put through the criminal justice system instead of medical interventions.

The family members of Anyone’s Child campaign for the full control and regulation of all drugs to prevent the tragedies that they themselves have had to face. We of course need facts and evidence to guide our future policies, but those who have inadvertently become experts simply through circumstance are perhaps some of the most qualified experts we have to help us shape better policies with life-saving outcomes.

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