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Drugs and crime: a threat to development

arton3985On 26 June 2012, the UN General Assembly held a thematic debate on “drugs and crime as a threat to development” on the occasion of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.


Celebrated since 1988 to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the objective of an international society free of drug abuse, the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking focused this year on the theme “Global Action for Healthy Communities without Drugs.”

The General Assembly debate – chaired by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the General Assembly, and gathering multiple stakeholders committed to drug and crime prevention – emphasized the impact of drugs and crime on poverty alleviation and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as the means to improve international efforts to address these issues.

In addition to the opening and closing sessions, panel discussions were held to discuss (1) the challenges in mainstreaming drug control into development initiatives and (2) ways of improving the international community’s efforts to address illicit drugs’ adverse impact on development. Panelists included, among others, the Chair of the International Narcotics Control Board, the Chair of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and the Executive Director of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security.

The outcome of the thematic debate included a summary that will be transmitted to the 13th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to be held in Doha in 2015 on the theme “Integrating crime prevention and criminal justice into the wider UN agenda to address social and economic challenges and to promote the rule of law at the national and international level, and public participation.”

In his message during the opening session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the serious consequences of drug abuse and illicit trafficking on national and international peace, security and development. “The billion of dollars generated from illicit drugs fuel terrorist activities and abet other crimes such as human trafficking and the smuggling of arms and people,” he explained. After hailing examples of particularly affected regions and vulnerable countries, he insisted on the challenge of transit countries that are no longer simply links in the chain of supply but have become points of arrival. “Such changing patterns of drug consumption jeopardize hard-won gains in sustainable development and good governance,” he outlined. Eventually, he reasserted the importance of the UN conventions on drugs, crime and corruption along with the necessity of partnerships to alleviate this problem.

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stated that countering transnational organized crime and illicit drugs must become an integral part of the development agenda. He also emphasized the increasing recognition that organized crime and illicit drugs are impediments to achieve the MDGs by 2015. He therefore reminded that all countries have a stake at fighting illicit drugs production and consumption since the trafficking routes are fundamentally international.

According to UNODC, the most successful approaches in drug use prevention involve a critical role of families, schools and communities. Local healthcare systems and services are equally crucial. Yet, if community-centered approaches are necessary, there can be no one-size-fits-all solution since each community has its own set of problems and circumstances. UNODC therefore insisted on an inclusive and participatory perspective to ensure that every sector of society – schools, parents, businesses, media, local police, faith communities, health professionals, civil society, etc – feels ownership and responsibility in addressing this challenge.

Besides, Mr Fedotov emphasized that drugs fuel insecurity and undermines public health: “heroin, cocaine, and other drugs continue to kill around 200 000 people a year, shattering families and bringing misery to thousands of other people, insecurity and the spread of HIV. The public health aspects of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration all have to be recognized as key elements in the global strategy to reduce drug demand.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working closely with UNODC to increase access to treatment and to make drug abuse a public health issue. In this regard, a new WHO information system (The WHO Global Health Observatory Database – Resources for Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders), providing details on the resources allocated to the prevention and treatment of drug-related problems in 147 countries, reports that most people with drug use disorders do not receive effective treatment and care due to a great lack of access. However, WHO stressed that drug dependence can be treated effectively with low-cost medicines and standardized psychological therapies, hailing the example of the treatment of heroin dependence that has been very successful in reducing HIV infection due to unsafe injections.

The 2012 World Drug Report

The opening session of the General Assembly’s thematic debate was also an opportunity to launch UNODC’s flagship 2012 World Drug Report.

The report aims to improve understanding of the illicit drug problem and contribute to a greater international cooperation for countering it. This edition provides an overview of the current situation in terms of production, trafficking and consumption along with the consequences of illicit drug use (treatment, diseases, and deaths). It presents the main characteristics of drug issue, its evolution over the last few decades, the driving factors of this evolution and the direction it is likely to take in the future.

According to the report, global patterns of illicit drug use, production and heath consequences remain stable in 2010, although opium production has rebounded to its previous high level in Afghanistan – the world’s biggest producer. Moreover, opium production may have increased in Africa and Asia, which together account for 70% of global opiate users, despite a lack of clear data for assessment. Indeed, high prices are making opium production attractive to farmers in South-East Asia.

As for cocaine, the major markets continue to be North America, Europe and Australia. However, the US has seen cocaine use decrease and Europe remains stable.

Around 230 million people are estimated to have used an illicit drug at least once in 2010, the report asserts. Cannabis remains the most world used substance, and Europe is still the most important market mainly supplied by Morocco – even if its relative importance is decreasing.

The report eventually reveals that in many countries there is more non-medical use of prescription drugs than of controlled substances. While illicit drug use is overall much higher among males than females, the non-medical use of tranquilizers and sedatives is higher among women.


This article is also available in Spanish and in French.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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