IDPC Policy principles

IDPC Policy principles

The five core policy principles are the foundation of our collective work.

Igor Starkov


IDPC members agree to promote five core policy principles in our advocacy work with governments and international agencies:

Principle 1: Priorities & evidence

Drug policies should be developed through a structured and objective assessment of priorities and evidence

Most countries have adopted laws to control drug production, distribution and use to comply with their obligations under the UN drug conventions. However, as policy makers have come to recognise the complexity of the factors affecting levels and patterns of drug markets and use, it has become clear that comprehensive and integrated national strategies were required. IDPC promotes a structured approach to developing and reviewing drug policies, which includes:

  • The identification of high-level objectives flowing from an assessment of which consequences of the drug markets are most harmful to society. Civil society should be engaged in discussions around which aspects of the drug problem matter most to them.
  • A set of evidence-based government activities that will be the most effective in achieving these objectives. For example, drug dependence treatment has proved to be effective in reducing drug-related health problems than arrests and punishment.
  • The involvement of all government departments responsible for these activities (including the departments of health, social affairs, justice, education and foreign affairs), in partnership with local municipal authorities, and community, faith-based and civil society organisations.
  • An appropriate amount of resources made available by the government.
  • A clear articulation of the scope and timescale of the strategy, and how and when its progress will be measured.

Principle 2: Human rights

All activities should be undertaken in full compliance with international human rights law

Governments and law enforcement authorities have sometimes paid too little attention to fundamental rights and freedoms in their enthusiasm to design and implement national drug policies, despite their obligation under the UN treaties to protect human rights. As a result, human rights abuses have proliferated under current drug control policies.

IDPC promotes a paradigm shift whereby international human rights law becomes a core element of the legal drug control framework:

  • Public health: improved access to essential medicines and harm reduction, prevention, treatment and care programmes
  • Development: refocusing drug strategies on alternative development, poverty reduction, and social and economic development amongst marginalised communities
  • Human security: refocusing drug law enforcement efforts on those most responsible for controlling and expanding drug markets, rather than low-level and non-dangerous dealers, users and subsistence farmers.

Principle 3: Harm reduction

Drug policies should focus on reducing the harmful consequences rather than the scale of drug use and markets

Over the past century, national governments have focused drug control strategies on reducing the scale of drug markets, primarily through enforcement and deterrence measures, in their efforts to reduce drug-related harms. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful, and these policies have often resulted in additional harms. For instance, laws criminalising drug use and the possession of injection ‘paraphernalia’ encourage the police to harass people who use drugs at needle-exchange sites, keeping them away from disease-prevention services.

Evidence and experience shows that policies and programmes that explicitly focus on reducing specific harms are more effective than those that attempt to create a ‘drug-free’ society. Harm reduction measures aim to reduce the harmful consequences of both drug use and markets. Harm reduction often refers to health promotion measures (such as needle exchange programmes, prevention and treatment), but it also encompasses measures that reduce a wide range of economic, social and health-related harms for the individual, the community and the overall population. Harm reduction is a pragmatic approach that recognises that the reduction of the scale of drug markets and use is not the only and most important objective of drug policy. Governments should therefore start by assessing the drug-related harms that have the most negative impact on their citizens. They will then be in a better position to design and implement strategies to tackle those specific problems.

Principle 4: Social inclusion

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.

Principle 5: Civil society engagement

Governments should build open and constructive relationships with civil society in the discussion and delivery of their strategies

Policy makers often view civil society as a problem to be avoided. However, NGOs and people directly affected by drug policies (in particular people who use drugs and growers of illicit crops) are an invaluable source of expertise because of their understanding of drug markets and affected communities. They can therefore play a major role in analysing the drug phenomenon and in delivering health and social programmes. They should therefore be involved in the design and implementation of drug policies, in particular:

  • Formulating better-informed drug policy and supporting appropriate policy formulation based on practical advice and experience
  • Strengthening political support for policy design and implementation
  • Facilitating communication between policy makers and key civil society stakeholders, making sure that people and communities are involved in planning interventions that will impact on them
  • Seeking mutually beneficial partnerships with civil society organisations to undertake joint programming and/or act as programme implementers
  • Stimulating a vibrant network of civil society organisations that can support policy design and implementation
  • Improving monitoring and evaluation capability.

IDPC seeks to facilitate the creation of clear and open lines of communication between governments and civil society representatives in order to engage in meaningful and respectful exchange of information and perspectives.