The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) is officially backing the decriminalization of all drugs and paraphernalia, earning the praise of drug reform and harm reduction advocates.
Members of APhA’s House of Delegates voted to adopted the revised policy late last month, becoming one of the nation’s largest medical associations to endorse broad decriminalization.
“APhA supports decriminalization of the personal possession or personal use of illicit drug substances or paraphernalia,” the plank says.
However, the association remains opposed to the “legalization of the possession, sale, distribution, or use of illicit drug substances for non-medical uses.”
Members of APhA, founded in 1852 and representing over 62,000 pharmacy professionals nationwide, also voted to remove a prior policy plank that voiced support for the use of drug courts as an alternative criminal justice pathway for those with drug-related convictions.
Instead, a new policy says that it “supports voluntary pathways for the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals who have been charged with the possession or use of illicit drug substances and who have substance use or other related medical disorders.”
— APhA HQ (@pharmacists) March 24, 2023
Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s (DPA) Department of Research and Academic Engagement, said in a press release on Monday that “APhA’s historic statement recognizes that criminalization and punishment will only harm the most marginalized among us, and that pharmacists should work to expand access to lifesaving harm reduction and treatment strategies that work.”
“We have lost over a million lives to preventable overdose deaths during the overdose crisis, and it is clearer than ever that we must move away from a punitive approach toward one grounded in compassion and public health if we want to save lives,” she said.
Adrienne Simmons, director of programs at National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, added that the association’s “support for addressing substance use as a health issue, rather than a crime, strengthens pharmacists’ roles as public health professionals and is a critical step toward addressing rising overdose and hepatitis C infection rates.”
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APhA is one of the latest health associations to back decriminalization as public opinion has shifted away from punitive drug laws toward health-focused harm reduction policies to combat the overdose crisis—though it is not the only one.
In February, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), which has historically aligned itself with prohibitionists and resisted modest marijuana reforms, called for the decriminalization of all currently illicit drugs in the interest of public health and racial equity.
Another major medical group, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), also recently endorsed broad drug decriminalization, expungements for low-level possession and the promotion of statewide harm reduction programs.
Nationwide, a strong majority of Americans, including most Republicans, support drug decriminalization, according to a poll released last year. There’s also majority support overall for allowing the operation of overdose prevention centers where people can use illicit substances in a medically supervised setting and receive treatment resources.
Support for the decriminalization proposal increased by 10 percentage points overall since voters were asked about it in 2021 with a different question in a prior Data for Progress poll.
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), said last year that the ongoing criminalization of people over drug use needs to end in order to effectively address substance misuse and the stigmatization of addiction.