OAS Analytical Report - The drug problem in the Americas

17 May 2013

The past two years have seen a much more active and intense hemispheric discussion of drug policies. There appears to be greater openness now to a dialogue on current policies and, in some sectors, a willingness to explore nontraditional approaches to the subject.

Reflecting their concerns over the impact of drug-related violence and the continuous flow of drugs in the region, hemispheric leaders, former Heads of State, academics, and representatives of civil society have supported the adoption of policies geared to downplaying the role of the criminal justice system in drug control. Reports by high-level groups, such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, emphasize the need to reduce the harms done to the health, security, and well-being of individuals and society, and favor an approach in which drug use is treated as a public health issue and consumption reduced through evidence-based prevention campaigns. Among other recommendations, they also encourage experimenting with legal regulation models for certain drugs.

At the same time, other voices suggest it is premature to assume that current approaches to the subject have failed. While acknowledging shortcomings in the implementation of current approaches, they maintain that, at the domestic level, countries are only now beginning to execute policies that are consistent with the “Hemispheric Drug Strategy” and its “Plan of Action 2011-2015,” adopted in 2011 by the member states of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States. This Strategy calls for an integrated and balanced approach to the formulation of drug policies: one that emphasizes supply and demand reduction, paying particular heed to control measures and international cooperation in line with United Nations Conventions on the subject.

There are points of consensus between the two approaches: both recognize that dependence on drugs is a chronic (or recurrent) illness that requires a public health response (treatment) and both agree on the need to promote evidence-based drug control policies and to incorporate gender issues and civil society participation in policy formulation. Both approaches focus on the human dimension of the problem by refraining from characterizing drug users merely as objects of the criminal justice system, and by promoting alternatives to imprisonment for drugdependent individuals who have committed crimes.

Conscious of all these facts on the ground and the challenges they pose, the Heads of State and Government of the Americas decided to forge ahead in the quest for more effective ways to unravel and handle this complex problem. To that end, an explicit mandate was assigned to the Organization of American States.

The purpose of this Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas is to help the Heads of State and Government of the Americas to establish a frame of reference to address this problem in their countries and to guide future multilateral policies and actions.

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