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Assessing Drug Policy: Principles & Practice

Following up on the first report, Towards a Review of Global Policies on Illegal Drugs, this report considers good practice in objective-setting and evaluation; argues that drug policies should be evaluated against their successes and failures in reducing drug-related harm; and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of some existing evaluation frameworks. Once again, it is emphasised that there is no single correct approach to drug misuse, as this policy area has significant political and ethical dimensions, but it is argued that it is nonetheless possible to identify the basic constituents of any effective strategy.

The first Beckley report, Towards a review of global policies on controlled drugs, put forward the case for an objective and independent review of existing global frameworks for the control of illicit drugs. The overarching objective of current UN strategy is ‘a drug free world’ by 2008. After decades of strong political commitment and financial investment throughout the world, there are still no signs of a significant reduction in the size of the illicit markets for drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis. Increased availability of these drugs has corresponded with a massive escalation in drug-related harms: crime and public nuisance, drug-related deaths, damage to health and mental health, social costs and damage to the environment. The human costs of drug abuse are immense, the search for effective responses is urgent. The first Beckley report expressed concern about the lack of progress so far, and the reluctance of the relevant international bodies to respond with a serious review. The history of the development and pursuit of drug policies has often owed more to ideological and political considerations than to measured considerations of evidence and experience. Things are beginning to change however. Both the UNODC and the European Union are committed to evaluating the impact of drug policies and reviewing their drug strategies in the light of the results. This is also true of national governments throughout the world. This trend is extremely positive. But the effective development of a comprehensive, evidence-based drug strategy is not straightforward, and there is still a lot to learn. Against this background, this report considers good practice in objective-setting and evaluation; argues that drug policies should be evaluated against their successes and failures in reducing drug-related harm; and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of some existing evaluation frameworks. Once again, it is emphasised that there is no single correct approach to drug misuse, as this policy area has significant political and ethical dimensions, but it is argued that it is nonetheless possible to identify the basic constituents of any effective strategy.