Unmasking the global failure of the ‘war on drugs’

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Unmasking the global failure of the ‘war on drugs’

4 December 2023

Unmasking the global failure of the ‘war on drugs’

New report sheds light on governments’ complacency in perpetuating the ‘war on drugs’ despite devastating consequences for millions, and calls for change.

Tuesday, 5 December 2023 (Vienna, Austria) – A report released today by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has exposed the dramatic failure of the current United Nations (UN) strategy to achieve a ‘drug-free world’ and the devastating consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ it underpins. The report urges the international community to call for urgent reform.

The report, Off track: Shadow report for the mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs, details the abject global failure to achieve any of the core objectives of the current UN strategy – the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs. Instead, drug control efforts have resulted in devastating consequences for the security, health and human rights of millions.

“We are at the halfway mark of the current 10-year global drug strategy, yet there has been no effort by governments to conduct a serious evaluation. When governments convene at the UN in March 2024, they are likely to once again rubber stamp a continuation of the catastrophic ‘war on drugs’ that nobody believes will succeed,” said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of IDPC. “Our report steps into the vacuum and brings the evidence to bear on the UN drugs debate. Governments cannot continue to shy away from decades of failure and must urgently correct course. Their continued dereliction of duty will be bitterly borne by communities worldwide.”

Using wide-ranging data from UN, government, academic and civil society sources, the report represents the only comprehensive evaluation of global drug policy, and illustrates its system-wide collapse:

  • Despite billions spent every year to curb drug markets and availability, the number of people who use drugs increased from 271 to 296 million in four years, reaching a historic record.
  • The latest global estimates on drug use-related deaths reached 494,000 in 2019 alone (the latest global data available), with a surge in overdose deaths.
  • The number of people executed for drug offences, in flagrant violation of international law, rose by 213% between 2019 and 2022.
  • Fuelled by punitive drug laws, the number of people incarcerated worldwide rose from 10.74 million to 11.5 million between 2018 and 2023 - with more than 2 million imprisoned for drug offences.
  • Globally, only one in five people with drug dependence have access to treatment.
  • The shocking disparity in access to controlled medicines continues, with over 82% of the global population having access to less than 17% of the world’s morphine.

While this disaster unfolds, the long-held consensus behind global prohibition is fracturing. Since 2019, the number of people who can legally access internationally controlled drugs for non-medical use more than doubled and now exceeds 294 million. In 2023, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights became the first UN entity to call for legal regulation to protect the health and security of communities.

“Throughout my career as a lawyer, judge, and minister, I have seen first-hand how drug laws have driven violence and mass incarceration, especially for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people living in poverty,” said Diego García Sayán, former Minister of Justice and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru. “This report should lay the ground for a process of deep reform that sheds the global punitive paradigm and protects the health, welfare, and human rights of people everywhere”.



On 14-15 March 2024, the UN will gather in Vienna for a high-level segment to conduct a Midterm Review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs - the current global strategy on drug policy. Between now and March, a series of UN meetings and negotiations are taking place to discuss progress made since 2019, and pave the way for the next five years of global drug policy. It is in this context that this Shadow Report is being published today. More information is available here.

Key links and information:

  • The International Drug Policy Consortium is a global network of more than 190 NGOs that works collectively to promote person-centred, rights-affirming drug policies at the national, regional and international levels. More information.
  • ‘Off track: Shadow report for the mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs’ will be available here on 5 December 2023, at 0:01 CET: For an embargoed copy of the report, please contact jfernandez[@]idpc.net
  • Details about the launch of the report at the UN are available here.
  • 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs: global drug strategy adopted by all Member States at the United Nations which seeks to address and counter the world drug situation. Available here.


Juan Fernández Ochoa

Campaigns and Communications Officer
International Drug Policy Consortium