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The War on Drugs:

Time to Count the Costs

The war on drugs creates massive costs, resulting from an enforcement-led approach that puts organised crime in control of the trade. It is time to count these costs and explore the alternatives, using the best available evidence, to deliver a safer, healthier and more just world.


The corruption and violence that accompany criminal drug production and trafficking are actively fuelling conflict and undermining development and security in some of the world's most vulnerable countries and regions.

Rather than protect public health, the drug war has done the opposite, diverting resources away from proven public health interventions, encouraging high-risk behaviours and using environments, and promoting the spread of blood-borne diseases among injectors.

Drug enforcement has led to mass criminalisation and incarceration; arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment of drug users, arrestees and prisoners; illegal use of the death penalty and targeted/extrajudicial killings; and the denial of basic health services.

The drug war's negative impacts fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable, excluded and marginalised, including children and young people, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, women, and economically deprived populations of users and drug crop growers.

The $300 billion-a-year illegal drug trade is fuelling crime at all levels, from the violent international drug production cartels and organised crime networks that control the trade, to the crime that stems from gangs, urban street-based dealing, and offending among dependent users.

Illicit drug crop production is causing deforestation and pollution in some of the world’s most fragile and bio-diverse ecosystems, made worse by the aggressive use of toxic herbicides in aerial eradications.

At a time of financial hardship across the globe, 100s of billions are being wasted on ineffectual or actively counterproductive drug law enforcement.