UN's "Day Against Drug Abuse" Raises Tough Questions

UN's "Day Against Drug Abuse" Raises Tough Questions

By Victoria Kim 06/26/13

At a conference of world leaders in Vienna, the US Drug Czar announces the end of the "war on drugs," but says legalization is no "silver bullet."

Image: 
The DEA in Afghanistan. Photo via

Today is the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The UN first marked this day in 1987 to serve as an annual reminder of the goals agreed upon by its member states of working towards a world free of drug abuse. The theme of this year's global awareness campaign headed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is "make health your 'new high' in life, not drugs;" the slogan reflects growing concern over the rise of designer drugsor "legal highs"new psychoactive substances that are being concocted faster than governments can regulate them. The 2013 World Drug Reportreleased today at a meeting in Vienna, where the UNODC is headquarteredsummarizes the world's drug production and consumption patterns; illicit drug consumption is steady and the number of injecting drug users and related HIV cases are down, while concern about designer drugs is up. Accompanying statements by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov mapped out the future of global drug control, which includes increasing UN involvement in countries like Myanmar and Africa, where drug trafficking is "fueling economic and political instability." Both Ki-Moon and Fedotov acknowledged the need for a science-based, "balanced approach" that recognizes drug addicts as "victims and patients" who need support instead of stigmatization.

The US drug policy strategy broadly matches the UN's approach. At an international conference in Vienna today, US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske announced that he has banished the phrase "war on drugs," and claimed that the US federal government allocates more of its budget to drug prevention and treatment than to domestic law enforcement. But many world leaders remain critical of US drug policy. In response to the bloodshed and violence fueled by the drug war in countries like Mexico and Guatemala, several Latin American leaders—including Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemalahave challenged the decades-long, US-led prohibition approach. Some, like former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have claimed legalization of drugs could curb the violence. But Kerlikowske said today that legalization is not a "silver bullet that would magically cause transnational organized crime to disappear...that is a fallacy and a distraction from global efforts to disrupt and dismantle" drug trafficking organizations. The US is "engaged in confronting violent transnational criminal organizations across the globe," he said.