Scientists Demand 'Real World' Approach To Evaluating Drug Policy

By Zachary Siegel 01/22/16

The public is invited to join researchers and scientists to call for sane drug policy.


Leading researchers and scientists from around the world are calling on governments to reevaluate illicit drug policies by measuring their “real world” impact on communities, according to an open letter released by International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP).

“To date, the impact of drug policies has traditionally been measured using a very narrow set of indicators totally detached from community concerns about health, safety, human rights and development,” said Dr. Dan Werb, director of the ICSDP in a press release.

Dr. Werb continued, “The scientific evidence suggests that conventional drug policies have little to no impact on patterns of illicit drug use. What’s equally important, though, is that these conventional indicators—like the amount of drugs seized or the price and purity of illicit drugs—totally fail to capture the most important ways in which drugs and drug policies affect communities.”

The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem will be held in April 2016. The last time this meeting happened was in 1998, which ended by quixotically calling for a drug-free world. We all know how that worked out.

With the special session rapidly approaching, questions about what metrics might best evaluate global drug policy have arose. Rather than measuring drug seizures and purity, measurements ought to be taken of health, security, development, human rights, and the quality of life of affected communities, the open letter argues.

“Governments have yet to systematically measure and evaluate their policies based on health and security outcomes experienced by communities,” said Dr. David Nutt, professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.

Like Dr. Werb, Dr. Nutt suggests the measured outcomes should include “the numbers of fatal overdose, blood-borne disease transmission rates, or traffic accidents—all of which have a far more meaningful impact on communities than measuring the level of drug use in the general population, or the amount of drugs that have been seized annually. While these may be important statistics, they tell us very little about how drugs are impacting communities.”

You are encouraged to join scientists in demanding that drug policies match community needs by adding your names in support of the open letter. The ICSDP has also created an online poll allowing the public to voice their top concerns when it come to drug policy.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.