It is now widely accepted that current drug control strategies have had limited success in reducing the overall scale of the illicit drug market, and have led to significant unintended consequences, that have impacted adversely on a range of areas of international cooperation. The tensions between drug control strategies and, for example, the prevention of HIV or the protection of human rights, are well documented. This briefing paper highlights similar tensions between the concerns and objectives of the development community, and the objectives and strategies implemented in the name of drug control.

UN agencies and member states have made some progress in recent years in addressing these tensions, but there is a long way to go to find an integrated approach to drug control that maximises the protection of health and human rights, and the promotion of social and economic development. The UN Development Programme, and most development NGOs, have been largely absent from this debate, but could be making a significant contribution to the elaboration and implementation of more effective drug policies and strategies.

Illicit drugs impact on development in a number of ways. Drug use contributes to diminished health, leading to higher healthcare costs and decreased earning at the population level. This is most noticeable in the area of HIV/AIDS where the sharing of needles not only spreads HIV infection among people who inject drugs but also serves to fuel the broader spread of the epidemic. Involvement in the illicit drugs market diverts people and resources from licit recorded economic activities. The huge profits associated with the drug market foster organised crime and corruption, which in turn inhibit the development of good governance. Environmental degradation resulting from the cultivation and refinement of naturally derived drugs is also being increasingly documented.