Governments around the world should decriminalize minor drug offences because the standard strategy of prohibition is harming public health, leading medics said on Thursday.

A report by the medical journal the Lancet and Johns Hopkins University said countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic had shown that decriminalizing non-violent offences such as possession and petty sale produced compelling health benefits.

The policy adopted by these countries also led to cost savings and did not increase problem drug use, the report added.

The U.N. General Assembly holds a special session on drugs next month at which it will reconsider the global approach to illicit drugs for the first time since 1998.

The decades-long strategy of outlawing drugs and jailing users, while battling cartels that control the trade, has come under increasing fire from critics in recent years.

The report's authors called instead for an evidence-based approach, focused on reducing harm by minimizing both the violence associated with drugs and the health risks, such as the transmission of HIV and hepatitis through shared needles.

"Policies meant to prohibit or greatly suppress drugs present a paradox," the report concluded.

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"They are portrayed and defended vigorously by many policymakers as necessary to preserve public health and safety, and yet the evidence suggests that they have contributed directly and indirectly to lethal violence, communicable-disease transmission, discrimination, forced displacement, unnecessary physical pain and the undermining of people's right to health."

Unsafe drugs supplied by violent criminal gangs increase the risk of overdoses, while incarceration fuels disease transmission in prisons, and law enforcement is often applied in a discriminatory way against racial minorities, the authors said.