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close this bookIllicit Drugs: Social Impacts and Policy Responses (UNRISD, 1994, 19 p.)
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View the documentUNRISD
View the documentSUMMARY
View the documentINTRODUCTION
Open this folder and view contentsTHE ILLICIT DRUG PROBLEM: WHY HAS IT BECOME WORSE?
Open this folder and view contentsPOLICY OPTIONS: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
View the documentCONCLUSIONS


This paper examines the social consequences of illicit drug production, trafficking and consumption, as well as the factors contributing to the global drug problem. In the light of this analysis, it considers the potential and limitations of the various possible policy responses - both those strategies already attempted and those that have as yet only been proposed.

People engage in drug production largely in response to economic incentives, which legal sanctions have been unable to counteract effectively. Peasant growers of drug crops can make from 10 to 50 times more in supplying the illegal drug market than they can in any other agricultural pursuit. Even where intense eradication efforts have managed to suppress drug production regionally, the shortfall in the drug market is quickly made up by increased production elsewhere.

Drug traffickers have used the opportunities presented by the changing global economic environment to enlarge their activities and expand their markets. They are highly mobile, employ the latest communications technology and move their money around the world electronically. The consequences of this type of increasingly organized trafficking are severe: systemic crime and violence are becoming endemic in the countries worst affected, while traffickers’ efforts to corrupt public officials and attract new generations to the drug trade help to protect them from attack.

Drug users not only suffer physical, social and economic problems themselves, but they also impose many direct and indirect costs on society. Of particular concern is the relationship between drug use and crime, especially the violent crime associated with crack cocaine.

In addressing the question of what is to be done about the illicit drug problem, this paper argues that the strategies favoured by the present approach are not working. Efforts to reduce the supply of drugs through crop eradication or attacks on drug syndicates have failed because the profits to be made in the industry are so enormous: the economic incentives are such that producers and traffickers always spring up to fill any gaps in the market that result from drug control efforts. Attempts to reduce consumption by imposing legal sanctions fail to curb drug use among the sections of the population where the problem is most severe: in order to be effective, such sanctions require that the user have something of value to lose and a future worth sacrificing for. Marginalized populations in many consuming countries seem to be resistant to such strategies.

Increased military involvement in drug control operations has been relatively unsuccessful where it has been tried. In addition, the adverse social and political impacts of such a strategy are potentially severe. More promising approaches involve longer term and more indirect strategies, including education, community organization and treatment programmes in consuming countries, and significant progress in rural development in producing countries. Proposals for the regulation, decriminalization or legalization of drug consumption and/or production have also been advanced - not to reduce consumption, but rather to reduce the drug-related crime and violence which affect society as a whole. This crime is driven largely by the high costs of drugs and the profits to be made in the drug trade, which in turn derive from illegality itself.

The paper concludes that no one policy option is going to solve the illicit drug problem. Given the severity of the current drug crisis, however, it is to be hoped that a balanced and more thorough examination of the advantages and limitations of all available policy options will lead to more imaginative and constructive policy formulations.