Executive Summary


United Nations General Assembly
Special Session on the World Drug Problem

New York, 8-10 June 1998


The regularity with which the world's media refer to drugs has created a deceptive sense of familiarity with the phenomenon. In reality, our stock of hard knowledge is woefully inadequate due to the fact that all activities associated with illicit drugs -- production, trafficking, consumption -- are conducted in secrecy. Reporting efforts are hindered by the clandestine nature of drug trade. Data on the illicit drug industry, whether it be financial, health, or law enforcement related, is necessarily flawed and rarely permits cross national comparisons.

One of the principal aims of this first World Drug Report is therefore to highlight what is known as well as what is not known about the illegal production, use and trafficking of psychoactive substances under international control and to make this information available to a wider audience of laypersons. Bearing in mind that many countries with little past experience of drug issues are now facing an urgent need to formulate policies and strategies, the Report also aims to provide a broad overview of the world drug situation: and to help the reader to evaluate a range of options and their potential consequences in a context which extends beyond national horizons.

At a more general level, the World Drug Report seeks to raise public awareness of the scope and complexity of drug problems in an objective manner, free of rhetoric or political bias.

The Report starts with the basics - by looking at what drugs are, at the types of drug subject to international control and at definition of terms such as dependence and abuse - and is divided in six Parts. A summary of each is presented below. More detailed information and quotations from the Report are provided in the "Highlights" section of the Press kit.

Part 1: Recent Trends and Developments in Cultivation, Production, Trafficking and Consumption - an Overview

The Report begins by providing a global overview of the most important trends in drug production, trafficking and consumption in different regions around the world. Much of the material is presented graphically, with text which interprets these developments in terms of prevailing economic, geopolitical and social conditions. Growing problems such as the relationship between injecting drug use and HIV/AIDS and the consumption of amphetamine-type stimulants are discussed.

Part 1 includes a study by Dr. Barbara Remberg titled "Stimulant abuse: from amphetamine to ecstasy".

Part 2: Theories and Interpretations of Illicit Drug Use

The World Drug Report synthesizes existing research into why people take drugs, perhaps the most complex and heavily debated aspect of the issue. In distinguishing between causal and correlative factors that influence consumption and addiction patterns, the Report identifies the most common "models" describing theories of addiction: the disease model, the moral (weakness) model and the social learning or behavioral model. The Report describes the distinctions between first (and possibly only) use; subsequent use which may be occasional or recreational, regular and/or compulsive; and problematic or dependent use. Motivations are presented in three principal categories: constitutional/personal (the possible influence of biological functioning and personality variables); interpersonal (the influence of family, peers and significant others); social-environmental (the broader environmental and cultural factors). The impact of formal and informal social controls is analysed and a discussion on theories concerning the rationale for quitting closes this Part of the Report.

Part 2 is completed by the contribution from Dr.Nick Crofts, titled "The First Hit: circumstances surrounding initiation into injecting"

Part 3: The Health and Social Consequences of Drug Abuse

The various categories of drugs are defined and their effects on the mind, body and behavior are described in detail, taking into account variables such as dosage, frequency of use and route of administration. The relationship of gender, age and socio-economic factors to drug use is explained. Drug abuse among young people, one of the most vulnerable populations, is studied in the context of specific regions and countries and in terms of specific substances. The Report also analyses the consequences of drug abuse among street children. The text then moves on to a detailed examination of one of today's most critical health issues: the relationship of drug use to the transmission of infectious disease such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. The costs incurred by the individual and society in terms of physical harm, increased taxation (e.g. to provide health care and maintain the criminal justice apparatus) and lower productivity are explained as are the consequences of drug use on the family, the community and in the workplace.

Special contributions to Part 3 are provided by two studies: Dr. Paul Goldstein: "The relationship between drugs and violence in the United States" and Dr. Roberto Lerner: "The social and health impact of drug consumption among youth: the Peruvian case".

Part 4: The Illicit Drug Industry: Production, Trafficking and Distribution

Trends and developments are examined from an economic perspective by describing the drugs "industry," and by looking impartially at its macroeconomic and financial implications. Part 4 describes the main financial sectors associated with the illicit drugs market, the interaction between the various stages and activities that comprise the industry and how these relate to the final market product. Using examples drawn from those economies heavily affected by the illicit drug trade, the authors take the reader through the production, trafficking and distribution process of these lucrative illegal activities. Money laundering is defined and the possible impact of drug-derived income on national economies analysed in detail as well as its role, phases, techniques and trends.

Part 4 includes a study by Prof. Amartya Sen titled "On corruption and organized crime".

Part 5: Drugs and Public Policy

Provides an introduction to the principal areas of controversy in drug control legislation: the relationship of morality to law; the boundary between the private and the public domain; and the attempt to universalize legislation. In this Part, the role of governments in developing, implementing and coordinating drug policy is described. At the international level, the role of the United Nations and its policy-making bodies is examined and the various bilateral and multilateral agreements on drug control are described. Among the UN agencies, the leadership role, responsibilities and activities of the United Nations Drug Control Programme are described as well as its role of facilitator of international cooperation and coordinator for all UN drug control activities. The impact on policy development and implementation of trends such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and increased levels of trafficking and associated violence is explained.

A section on the debate about regulation/legalization has been included here to outline, for the layperson, the wide range of policy options lying between prohibition and legalization such as harm reduction and decriminalization. The impact of legalization for developing countries is discussed for the first time in this Report.

Part 5 closes with a study by Dr. David Musto, "International Drug Control: Historical Aspects and Future Challenges".

Part 6: Strategies and Programmes

Finally, the World Drug Report describes national and international ongoing programmes to help countries deal with drug-related problems such as: preventive education, awareness raising, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts. The Report also focuses on supply side programmes such as alternative development, crop substitution and financial strategies designed to stop money laundering.

Part 7: Country Profiles

Eight "Country Profiles" conclude the Report by taking a closer look at selected countries -Australia, Colombia, Italy, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand, UK and the USA -where available, information is synthesized to provide some insight into national drug situations, problems and policies.