Promoting stigma and discrimination

Click the image to the right to view the Count the Costs stigma and discrimination briefing.

As with wars throughout history, the negative consequences of the drug war fall heaviest on the most vulnerable, excluded and marginalised.

Being positioned on the frontline, children and young people in particular have borne the brunt of the war on drugs, whether forced by poverty and desperation into becoming drug growers or foot soldiers of the cartels; as casualties of the drug war through prison time or criminal records for youthful experimentation; or by being orphaned as a result of the incarceration of parents on drug-related convictions.

Women have similarly suffered through exploitation by the trade itself (female drug mules are notably over-represented in prison populations), while drug-using mothers experience children being removed and denial of social services on release from prison.

Drug law enforcement can also become a conduit for institutionalised racial prejudice. Traditional practices and indigenous cultures have been criminalised and persecuted, while racial minority groups have frequently been disproportionately targeted and punished by enforcement and sentencing.

  • Despite similar rates of drug usage, African-American men in the US are sent to prison on drug charges at 13.4 times the rate of white men, resulting in one in nine 20- to 34-year-olds being incarcerated on any given day, primarily as a result of drug law enforcement
  • Entire Andean populations that continue the traditional cultural practices of coca leaf chewing and drinking coca tea continue to be criminalised

"As things now stand, governments across the world continue to incarcerate drug users, and the cycle of stigma, HIV infection, and mass inequity goes on."

Stephen Lewis, Former Special Envoy to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, statement endorsing the Vienna Declaration, 2010.