Brazilian leaders from the Catholic and Evangelical churches, along with representatives from therapeutic communities, have thrown their support behind the campaign “Drug Law: It’s Time to Change.”
These leaders offer a critical perspective on drug policy by highlighting reform’s importance – not only by public policy metrics – but also because it is the right and decent thing to do.
“The church must understand that what the campaign is asking for is to treat users in a more humane way,” said Pastor Evandro Machado, from the Methodist Ministry of Incarceration.
Einardo Bingener, a representative of the Catholic Church who is also a member of the Brazilian Commission on Drugs and Democracy (CBDD) added, “We must not save ourselves alone, but rather, as grapes, in bunches.”
Mr. Bingener is also coordinator of the Latin American Project of Research on Therapeutic Communities.
In August, the president of the CBDD, Paulo Gadelha, submitted a draft bill proposing drug law reforms to the president of the Brazilian House of Representatives. The proposal would expand on current laws decriminalizing drug use, with the intent of minimizing the number of drug users being incarcerated. The proposed bill is expected to be evaluated by the National Congress until March 2013.
Religious leaders provide a unique vantage point from which to consider the campaign. They are among the country’s most dedicated service-providers to people who use drugs and communities affected by the drug trade.
Pastor and philosopher Neil Barreto, from the Bethany Baptist Church, said: “We can become agents for change with this campaign. We can unite with the government and help them offer the medical services that we already provide through therapeutic communities. We can facilitate this union.”
Fabio Damasceno is a pastor and psychiatrist as well as a representative of the Evangelical Church. For decades, Damasceno had provided prevention services and outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol dependencies through the facility Community S8, in Sao Gonçalo. Community S8 also organizes the Michelle de Moraes Clinic, a popular clinic for treatment of people who use drugs in Santa Cruz, a community in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro.
“We have worked closely with drug dependency for 40 years and we have experience in helping and motivating patients and their families,” Damasceno stated.
A change of perspective is needed in order to effectively offer people with drug dependencies assistance and care. We need to build links between public health specialists, clergy, churches, therapeutic communities and groups that offer support and free treatment for people with drug dependencies.
Because we all have a stake in the issue and every voice counts.