|Illicit Drugs: Social Impacts and Policy Responses (UNRISD, 1994, 19 p.)|
By most estimates, the traffic in illicit drugs is one of the worlds most substantial money earners. The retail value of drugs, at around 500 billion US dollars a year, now exceeds the value of the international trade in oil and is second only to that of the arms trade.
The consumption of illicit drugs not only has serious physical, social and economic consequences for the individual consumer, but also imposes enormous costs on society as a whole, and ultimately funds massive criminal systems. People may choose to take drugs to rebel, to escape, to cope, to survive, to belong or to register resignation and defeat. The current global increase in the consumption of illicit drugs may be related to changes in society, including reduced family and community cohesiveness, increased unemployment and greater feelings of alienation.
Why do people produce and traffic in illicit drugs, and how are they able to do so on such a large scale? While one obvious incentive is the money that is to be made in servicing consumer demand for drugs, other factors are also involved. The structure of society, the nature of political power, the impact of economic policy, and the resistance of the cultural fabric to private drug consumption and public corruption - all these are factors that influence how successfully illicit drugs can be produced and traded.
This paper, drawing on recent UNRISD research, particularly in Latin America, examines the chain of illicit drug production, distribution and consumption. It focuses on the social consequences of these activities and the forces contributing to the global drug problem. The analysis indicates the complexity of the illicit drug trade and the need for a multi-pronged policy to address the problem.