Count the costs: 50 years of the war on drugs

29 March 2011

The war on drugs creates massive costs, resulting from the enforcement-led approach that puts organised crime in control of the trade. It is time to count these costs and explore the alternatives, using the best evidence available, to deliver a safer, healthier and more just world.

The global “war on drugs” has been fought for 50 years, without preventing the long-term trend of increasing drug supply and use. Beyond this failure, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has also identified the many serious ‘unintended negative consequences’ of the drug war. These costs result not from drug use itself, but from choosing a punitive enforcement-led approach that, by its nature, places control of the trade in the hands of organised crime, and criminalises many users. In the process this:

  1. Undermines international development and security, and fuels conflict
  2. Threatens public health, spreads disease and causes death
  3. Undermines human rights
  4. Promotes stigma and discrimination
  5. Creates crime and enriches criminals
  6. Causes deforestation and pollution
  7. Wastes billions on ineffective law enforcement

The “war on drugs” is a policy choice. There are other options that, at the very least, should be debated and explored using the best possible evidence and analysis.