1 Introduction and methodology
This Report provides an assessment of how the global market for drugs developed from 1998 to 20071 and describes drug policy around the globe during that period. To the extent data allow, it then assesses how much policy measures, at the national and international levels, have influenced drug problems. The Report is intended to help inform the deliberations about the 1998 UNGASS resolution at the 2009 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, as well as longer-term discussions of drug policy at the national level. The analysis is focused on policy relevant matters but it does not attempt to make recommendations to governments, reflecting the diversity of contexts and values in which policy is implemented.
This document provides the main Report of a project conducted over a period of 12 months by the Trimbos Institute and the RAND Corporation under contract to the European Commission. The Report draws on a number of other supporting documents from the study that are briefly described in the following paragraphs, along with the methodology of the project.
The European Commission launched this project by seeking an analysis of the main characteristics, mechanisms and factors that govern the global illicit drugs market and to examine the extent to which perception of this issue matches reality. The project was to address, inter alia, both supply and demand in the different parts of the world, estimate the size of the global illicit drugs market and also its costs for society, taking into account the costs of international control measures. Other objectives included an assessment of how the illicit drugs phenomenon developed over the past decade and how these developments can be explained.
In addition the Commission called for an analysis and description of the main drug policy models that have been implemented in different countries to tackle the drugs phenomenon in the past decade. This was to include a comparative analysis of the character and perceived impacts of drug-demand-reduction and supply-reduction policies on the drug problems, including health and social well-being, corruption and socio-economic development. The Commission also sought assessment of the possible unintended consequences of drug policy interventions.
Not all of these questions turned out to be answerable. We did conclude that during the period 1998 to 2007 the size of the global illicit drug problem did not decline; indeed, it has most probably grown somewhat worse over that time. Some countries' drug problems (especially the heroin and cannabis problems in many developed countries) have stabilized and probably declined but drug problems have worsened substantially in some developing and transitional countries. While it was not possible to produce a robust estimate of the total revenues from drug sales, it does appear that the existing estimates substantially overstate both the retail value and the international trade component of the drug market. Close examination of the methods used to produce estimates of the economic costs of the drug problem in various nations showed such differences in concepts used and the nature of the available data that it was judged impossible to produce estimates of the global costs of drug use and distribution.
We examined 18 countries in detail. Though there are many differences in drug policy across nations, we found that national drug policies changed in a moderately consistent fashion over the period, with an increased focus on helping users and, less strongly, on punishing traffickers and sellers. Though there is a strong research base for the claim that treatment can reduce the adverse effects of drug use for both users and society, there is no evidence that any specific policy instrument can reduce the number of drug users. The relationship between drug policy and changes for the better in drug use or drug problems is marginal at best. The strongest evidence for this conclusion is the marked similarity in drug trends (if not in levels of drug problems) in countries with very different drug policies e.g. the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia.
There are many unintended negative consequences of drug policy interventions, particularly on the supply side. Building on an innovative analysis of the issue by the Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), we present a new framework for understanding what generates these consequences.
1 Though we aim to present data through 2007, for many countries and series data are available only through 2006 or even 2005.
The study covered four drugs in detail; cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS2). These four drugs account for most of the global drug problem and certainly they dominate both discussion and measurement. In some nations other drugs are important but they either contribute little to the total global market for illicit drugs or they are not the subject of much explicit policy making. For example sniffing of volatiles by adolescents is common in countries as different as Scotland and Mexico; however little is known about this phenomenon and there are few interventions specifically targeted at it.
The project relies primarily on existing studies and data from national and international sources, particularly the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), and the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). We did however attempt to augment these data sources for individual countries. Given that nations differ widely in the nature of their problems and policies, and given limitations of time and budget, we could not collect data in every country. Instead we selected 18 countries to examine in detail. Representing the various regions of the world we included: the largest by population (China, India, the United States Brazil and Russia); some countries that had particularly important roles in the drug market (Colombia, Mexico and Turkey); some countries that had recently transitioned from Communist regimes (e.g. the Czech Republic, Hungary and Russia); and others that had tried a variety of drug policy approaches (e.g. Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden). South Africa was picked as the only major African nation for which adequate data might be available. In each country we interviewed selected experts to supplement the written data. Report 4 ("National drug problems and policies: an integration of 18 country studies") presents the 18 individual country reports, as well as an integrating essay describing the patterns of change in problems and policies in those countries.
For Afghanistan, central to the heroin market, we relied on the many published studies. For Iran, an important nation for both problems and policies with respect to opiates, we were dependent on a much smaller published literature and on expert judgement.
This main report relies heavily on the other project activities. We developed new estimates of the size of the world drug market, summing a series of estimates of the major national markets and covering the retail, trafficking and production levels (Report 2 "Estimating the size of the global drug market revenues"). An effort was also made to estimate the economic costs of drug use in those countries for which appropriate data were available (Report 3 "Estimating social costs of illicit drugs across countries"). The study concluded that existing data and concepts varied so much across countries that it was possible neither to aggregate over countries nor to track how economic costs had changed over time in countries.
The study is analytically focused on the markets for drugs and brings a largely economic approach to the issue as reflected in Report 1 ("Assessing the operation of the global illicit drug markets"). That does not mean that we analyzed only those things that can be measured in money terms. Thus Report 5 ("The unintended consequences of drug policy") assesses what is known about the unintended effects of drug control measures, many of which are essentially not susceptible to economic valuation.
A major limitation for our description of problems and policies, as well as for the assessment of the effectiveness of policies, is the weakness of existing data. Rather than provided detailed caveats for every component of the study, many of which draw on the same or similar data sources, we have described the most important methodological problems confronting this area of monitoring and analysis in a single document, Report 6 ("Methodological problems confronting cross-national assessments of drug problems and policies").
2 The three main types of ATS are amphetamines, ecstasy and methamphetamines.