Policy and activities should seek to promote the social inclusion of marginalised groups, and not focus on punitive measures towards them

Harsh living conditions and the associated trauma and emotional difficulties are major factors in the development of drug problems. While social affairs departments and international development agencies have focused on improving the living conditions of poor and marginalised groups and integrating them into the social and economic mainstream, drug control policies have often had the opposite effect on people who use drugs and illicit crop growers. For example, the stigmatisation and criminalisation of people who use drugs restricts their ability to engage in social and economic activity, and punishing young people who use drugs results in their exclusion from education or employment opportunities. Evidence shows that programmes focusing on harsh penal sanctions towards people who use drugs have had little deterrent effect, and only serve to increase the exposure of users to health risks and criminal groups.

IDPC promotes policies that challenge the social marginalisation and stigmatisation of individuals and groups at higher risk. Law enforcement, prevention and treatment programmes should include a social dimension:

  • Drug policies should avoid measures that worsen the marginalisation of people who use drugs and illicit crop growers, and encourage them instead in reintegration or alternative development programmes. Drug dependence should be considered as a health problem, rather than a criminal one.
  • Prevention programmes should be designed to avoid measures that inhibit dependent drug users’ healthy transition to adulthood (such as exclusion from school or denial of services).
  • Drug treatment programmes should enable users to reintegrate successfully into society.
  • Drug policies should be developed and implemented with the full and meaningful involvement of people most affected by these policies – in particular people who use drugs and growers of illicit crops.

This approach also entails the adoption of wider health, social and economic policies. Overall levels of poverty, inequality and social cohesion have a greater long term impact on the prevalence of drug use and related problems in any society than specific national drug policies. If a government’s priority is to reduce the overall level of drug dependence, then the focus should be on addressing these wider social policy challenges rather than deepening social exclusion through tough drug policies.