About Count the Costs


Count the Costs is a collaborative project between a range of organisations that, while representing a diverse range of expertise and viewpoints, share a desire to reduce the unintended costs of the war on drugs.

The project marks the 50th anniversary year of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the convention which cemented global drug control into an international legal framework that has remained largely unchanged to this day. It is a criminal justice-led approach built around police and military enforcement against drug production and supply, with punitive responses to drug users.

While doubtless implemented with good intentions, it is now possible, reflecting on the experiences of the past half-century, to conclude that the policy has failed to achieve its goal of reducing or eliminating drug production, supply and use, all of which have risen dramatically. It has, however, had a range of what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has referred to as 'unintended negative consequences'.

These destructive impacts, vast and tragic in their scale, are primarily related to the drugs trade itself, control of which has defaulted to violent criminal profiteers. Attempts to combat this illicit trade have resulted in the mass criminalisation of often vulnerable populations of drug users and growers, at the same time as diverting resources away from proven public health interventions and towards futile and counterproductive enforcement responses (see the Seven Costs Summary Briefing).

While it is important to acknowledge and respond to the very real personal and social costs of problematic drug use, this project is specifically focusing on the costs created or exacerbated by drug law enforcement – the so called 'war on drugs'. This is a vital distinction to highlight, as all too often public debate either ignores problems created by drug policy and law enforcement, or confuses and conflates them with the harms from drug use.

It is these costs of the drug war itself – as well as the laws that create them – which have never been subjected to meaningful scrutiny and evaluation by the governments and agencies responsible for drug policies. Without such scrutiny, the debate about how policy should evolve in a rapidly changing world can never be adequate, and will never achieve the safer, healthier and more just world we all strive for.

Aims and activities

1.    Documenting the costs

The Count the Costs project aims to highlight the negative impacts of the war on drugs in seven key policy areas: Development and Security; Public health; Human Rights; Stigma and Discrimination; Crime; The Environment; and Economics.

Although governments and the UN have failed to systematically evaluate the costs of the war on drugs, there is nonetheless a substantial body of research available to demonstrate their scale and scope.

Throughout this 50th anniversary year we will be producing briefings for each of the seven cost headings summarising the key negative impacts of the drug war in different areas of the world.

We will also be compiling a library of factual and analytical resources from around the globe on this website, including reports, images, video, and audio media.

We welcome submissions to this resource collection, as well as any feedback or comments on any of the individual resources.

(Note: the various reports come from a wide range of sources – their inclusion does not indicate automatic endorsement by Count the Costs project supporters.)


2.    Reaching out to the wider NGO field

The briefings and the resource collection will be the primary tool for reaching out to a wider NGO and public audience that has historically had only limited engagement with the debate. A key element of this outreach will be building organisational endorsements for the Count the Costs statement, which calls upon world leaders and UN agencies to quantify the unintended negative consequences of the current approach to drugs, and assess the potential costs and benefits of alternative approaches.


3.    Promoting debate on alternatives based on the best possible evidence and analysis

The call on governments to count the costs of their war on drugs and consider alternative approaches is not an endorsement of any one policy position. Rather it is highlighting the need for reform and change, if the costs that stem from current approaches are to be reduced. Acknowledging and systematically assessing these costs is the first step to informing the vital debate over future developments of drug policy and law.

It is important to remember that the war on drugs is a policy choice, and that a wide spectrum of alternatives are available. Supporters of Count the Costs have a range of often divergent views regarding these alternatives. However, there is consensus on the following:

  • That the harms of current approaches can no longer remain un-scrutinised by those responsible for them
  • That reform is needed
  • That alternatives need to be assessed and debated using the best possible evidence and analysis

As well as bringing together resources that document the various costs of the war on drugs, resources will also be collected that examine how such costs can be most effectively monitored and evaluated, and also evidence about the various alternative approaches where they have been considered. A number of events will also be organised looking specifically at these issues (check the blog or follow the Twitter account and Facebook group for details).

Supporter organisations and funding

For the full list of Count the Costs supporter organisations, see: http://www.countthecosts.org/supporters

The project is coordinated by Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the UK. Transform is a UK registered charity and campaigning policy think tank. Our vision is "a world in which the War on Drugs is over and effective and humane systems of drug regulation have been established". (For more information please visit www.tdpf.org.uk.)

The project is funded by Transform, with support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Allen Lane Foundation, and the OSF Global Drug Policy Program.

For more information, or for submissions to the resource library, please contact the Count the Costs project coordinator, Martin Powell, at info@countthecosts.org or on +44 (0)117 325 0295.