Why we should rethink law enforcement-led strategies

For the past 50 years, the international drug control regime has sought to tackle illicit drug markets and use with tough law enforcement measures and severe punishment, targeting users, producers and traffickers. In 2009, the United Nations published the results of a global review of drug control initiatives in the preceding 10 years. It revealed that the predominantly law enforcement and punishment-led approaches to drug control have not resulted in a reduction in scale of the global demand or supply of illicit drugs.

Instead, such approaches have resulted in a range of unintended consequences including widespread human rights violations, the explosion of HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs, and the growth of powerful organised crime networks which in turn has led to high levels of violence and corruption.

In their drug control activities, law enforcement officers typically have regular contact with people involved in the production, trafficking and use of illicit drugs. They subsequently possess valuable insight into the workings of illicit drug markets, and the factors that drive supply and demand. Law enforcement agencies therefore have a vital role to play in developing effective strategies for reducing drug-related crime and  the other harms associated with drug markets and use. 

As they are relied upon by national governments as a key operational agency in drug control efforts, law enforcement agencies also occupy a strategically important position in shaping the development of national drug policies. In particular, law enforcement agencies can advise on the effectiveness of specific initiatives and encourage policy makers to consider alternative, and more effective and humane approaches to dealing with the drug-related problems.

The IDPC Law Enforcement Project

The IDPC Law Enforcement Project aims to encourage and facilitate discussion on effective drug policy within the law enforcement community through conferences, seminars, and training. If you would like to get involved, please contact us at contact@idpc.net.

  • IDPC law enforcement seminar in Malaysia – December 2011: In December 2010, IDPC organised a seminar on alternatives to mandatory treatment and rehabilitation for drug offenders in Malaysia, in collaboration with the Malaysian AIDS Council. The seminar sought to raise awareness about alternative strategies, share experiences from different countries about law enforcement measures, and engage high-level Malaysian officials in drug policy discussions. Read the report of the seminar.
  • IDPC law enforcement training course in Peru – September 2011: This course, co-organised by IDPC, the Centro de Investigación Drogas y Derechos Humanos (CIDDH) and the Peru National Police (PNP) was attended by over 80 police officers and representatives of various State institutions in Peru. The main themes of the course focused on human rights, harm reduction and the cost-effectiveness of law enforcement. Read more (in Spanish).

Resources for law enforcement

The IDPC Drug Policy Guide  provides practical guidance and examples of best practice on how law enforcement agencies can refocus their activities to make a better impact on the illicit drug market and to reduce the harms associated with it.

We are also in the process of creating law enforcement training materials on the basis of the principles highlighted in the Guide. The materials will aim to provide detailed guidelines, developed according to available research and evidence, on how law enforcement activities can be made more effective. 

Read more about issues relevant to the role of law enforcement agencies in drug control activities by visiting our law enforcement library.

If you would like to share your experience with drug control measures as a law enforcement officer, please contact us at contact@idpc.net.

We also encourage you to subscribe to the IDPC Monthly Alerts, an easy way to keep updated with new developments in global drug policy.

Law enforcement library

Categories: have a small description of each of these concepts and a list of most relevant publications in each of these pages.

  1. Alternative approaches to law enforcement
  2. Balloon effect
  3. Corruption
  4. Costs of law enforcement approaches
  5. Crop eradication
  6. Demand reduction strategies
  7. Discrimination against people who use drugs
  8. Drug market-related violence
  9. Economic impact of law enforcement measures
  10. Environmental impact of law enforcement measures
  11. Harm reduction strategies and methods
  12. Public health impacts
  13. Human rights violations
  14. International law applicable to drug control activities
  15. Organised crime and drug markets
  16. Punishment and incarceration
  17. Supply reduction strategies
  18. Training tools for law enforcement