Development-oriented approach to fighting the Illicit international trade in drugs and narcotic substances: aligning international drug policies to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.  

The drug problem became one of the most aching concerns for international policy-makers, that requires solutions like never before.

The illicit trade in drugs involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances which are subject to the drug prohibition laws  (UN, 2019) is estimated between 300 - 400bln a year or 7-8% of all international trade. The international cooperation efforts to reduce the size and the scale of the drug markets,  undertaken by the international community between 1998 and 2016 and led by the UN and other international intergovernmental task forces, have largely failed (the UNGA Resolution A/Res/66/183) Different studies demonstrated the increase in production and the use of drugs, new forms of facilitation of trade in drugs, high adaptability of international crime groups and networks to new context and law enforcement practices and investigation strategies. The drug policies focused on seizing the crops hit most vulnerable groups

(subsistence farmers, children, women) and resulted in more poverty and crime in the regions of cultivation. The violent and armed conflicts between the government and organized crime groups locked the communities in "cross-fire", where the poorest and vulnerable were affected most. However, forced crop eradication strategies through the use of the aggressive pests caused environmental damages, led to contamination of water, fish, and soil, broke the balance of local ecosystems. The effectiveness of punitive and aggressive policies has proven to be limited. (GCDP, 2018)


The international community has recognized the need to change the policy paradigm and focus on people and development, recognized illicit trade in drugs as a developmental issue, that has complex developmental causes and effects and needs to be addressed holistically and in line with 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. On causes side, many studies demonstrate the direct link between economic development and engagement in the cultivation of drug crops such as opium poppy and coca that mostly occurs in poor, often isolated conflict and post-conflict regions or in fragile states. On the effects side, illicit trade in drugs contributes to increasing organized crime, corruption, violence, affects the fundamental institutes of the society such as justice and law enforcement in the origin states, creates unaffordable social costs in both origin and receiving economies. See the last 2018 World Drug Report by the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) that provided insights into the latest drug markets trends and the analysis of the global synthetic drugs market, including new psychoactive substances, health costs of the drug use, gender aspects and role of women in the drug supply chain.    

Agenda 2030 has created "a key opportunity" to align drug control policies and international cooperation efforts with the SDGs, focus on the drivers of drug cultivation including poverty, gender inequality, human rights abuse and economic development path. The experts recognize that Agenda 2030 "opened the door to an alignment of the responses to drugs with the principles of sustainable development. For the first time, a high-level document on drugs, the UNGASS Outcome Document, added new pillars to the global drug control strategy: access to essential medicines, new challenges, human rights, youth rights and women’s rights, and development. It pointed to the need to rethink the compartmentalised response of the UN system towards drugs, focused narrowly on law enforcement and criminal justice." Finally the international community came to the consensus that there is a need to focus on people, strengthen institutions, justice, and capacity-building and offer an alternative development path to communities, farmers, i.e. reduce the societal causes of the illegal drug production such as poverty, insecurity, and fragility of the states of the origins. 

Currently, the international community is developing a new global drug strategy for the coming decade (follow the developments in the preparatory process here). The new strategy is supposed to highlight the interactions between the SDGs and international drug policy, align drug policy with the spirit, letter, and implementation of the SDGs. In this new context, it is important to find how drug policies affect the capacity of communities, territories, and countries to reach SDG targets? How achieving the SDGs effects the development of the countries involved in illicit trade in drugs? A great room to improve exists in scaling up the global partnership towards a global reform of international drug policies which need to become an integral component of the national sustainable development strategies. 

Should you get interested in this fundamental intersect between the sustainable development agenda, SDGs and the effectiveness of the international (global) policies for drug control, follow the research and policy developments published by the UNODC, check the periodical reports by the development agencies, and intergovernmental task force FATF, Europol and Interpol.  Please, also read The 2018 Position Paper on Drug Policy and Sustainable Development Agenda by the Global Commission on Drug Policy that provides a comprehensive overview of the intersect between the SDGs and drug policies and strategies. See also the paper by the International Peace Institute "Aligning Agendas: Drugs, Sustainable Development, and the Drive for Policy Coherence" (2018).

Photo: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 

By Katsiaryna Serada



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