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Home > International context for Ireland's new drugs strategy.

Pike, Brigid (2009) International context for Ireland's new drugs strategy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 30, Summer 2009, pp. 3-4.

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Since 2001 Ireland’s drugs strategy has been formulated within the context of the policy frameworks on illicit drugs adopted by the UN and the EU. While broadly similar in approach, there are differences in emphasis between the UN and EU frameworks which leave room for member states, such as Ireland, to exercise some discretion in developing national policy priorities. Some features of the current international illicit drug policy frameworks of relevance to Ireland’s drugs strategy are noted here.1

 In their illicit drugs strategies both the UN and the EU reaffirm the primacy of the three international drug control conventions as the basis for drug policy, acknowledge the rule of law and undertake to uphold respect for concepts such as human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, and human rights. In setting out their high-level aspirations with regard to illicit drugs, however, the two entities diverge.
°       The UN’s ultimate goal is ‘to minimize and eventually eliminate the availability and use of illicit drugs and psychotropic substances in order to ensure the health and welfare of humankind’, to which end it encourages ‘the exchange of best practices in demand and supply reduction’, and emphasises that ‘each strategy is ineffective in the absence of the other’.
°       The EU has two aims: to contribute to ‘the attainment of a high level of health protection, well-being and social cohesion by complementing the Member States’ action in preventing and reducing drug use, dependence and drug-related harms to health and society’ and to ensure ‘a high level of security for the general public by taking action against drugs production, cross-border trafficking in drugs and diversion of precursors, and by intensifying preventive action against drug-related crime, through effective cooperation embedded in a joint approach’.
In other words, unlike the UN, the EU stops just short of seeking a drug-free world.
Both international frameworks emphasise the need for an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing and balanced approach to supply and demand reduction strategies. At this point, however, the two bodies diverge: the EU uses the term ‘harm reduction’ but the UN prefers a vaguer term, ‘related support services’. To elaborate:
°       The EU calls for the development and improvement of ‘an effective and integrated comprehensive knowledge-based demand reduction system including prevention, early intervention, treatment, harm reduction, rehabilitation and social reintegration measures within the EU member states’. It further states that drug demand reduction measures must take into account the health-related and social problems caused by the use of illegal psychoactive substances and of polydrug use in association with legal psychoactive substances such as tobacco, alcohol and medicines. Furthermore, it calls for the different levels of health risks involved with different forms of drug use (such as polydrug use) or life periods and specific situations (such as early adolescence, pregnancy, driving under the influence of drugs) to be taken into account in developing demand reduction interventions.
°        The UN affirms its commitment to ‘effective, comprehensive, integrated drug demand reduction programmes, based on scientific evidence and covering a range of measures, including primary prevention, early intervention, treatment, care, rehabilitation, social reintegration and related support services’. It states that demand reduction strategies should be aimed at promoting health and social well-being among individuals, families and communities and reducing the adverse consequences of drug abuse for individuals and society as a whole, taking into account the particular challenges posed by high-risk drug users, in full compliance with the three international drug control conventions and in accordance with national legislation. It also states that member states should ensure access to demand reduction interventions on a non-discriminatory basis, in detention facilities as elsewhere, bearing in mind that those interventions should also consider vulnerabilities that undermine human development, such as poverty and social marginalisation.
Both international bodies acknowledge the need for evidence-based policy. The UN calls for member states to develop and use ‘indicators and instruments for the collection and analysis of accurate, reliable and comparable data’. The EU’s overall objective in relation to information, research and evaluation suggests that the EU drug research community is at a more advanced stage of development than the UN equivalent: the EU strategy calls for ‘a better understanding of the drugs problem and the development of an optimal response to it through a measurable and sustainable improvement in the knowledge base and knowledge infrastructure’.
Drugs policy researcher Professor Peter Reuter argues that over the past 10 years policy makers around the world have tended to ignore the growing body of evidence showing that drug use prevalence has been insensitive to policy interventions.2 According to Reuter, no prevention, treatment or enforcement strategies have demonstrated an ability to substantially affect the extent of drug use and addiction. He calls on the drugs policy community to be open to reviewing all the evidence and exploring new policy options: ‘… discussion of policy should pay more attention to how few of the intended effects are achieved by most policies and how many and troubling are the unintended effects, particularly of tough enforcement’ (p. 515). (
1.   This account is based on a reading of two documents: the EU Drugs Strategy 2005–2012 (CORDROGUE 77), retrieved on 24 March 2009 from and the UN Draft Political Declaration (E/CN.7/2009/L.2), retrieved on 24 March 2009 from . The latter document, together with a 10-year action plan, was agreed at the High-Level Segment of the 52nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which met in Vienna in March 2009.
2.   Reuter P (2009) Ten years after the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS): assessing drug problems, policies and reform proposals. Addiction, (104): 510–517.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Page Range
pp. 3-4
Health Research Board
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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