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Pike, Brigid (2014) Regional drug strategies across the world. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 50, Summer 2014, pp. 4-5.

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In March 2014 the EMCDDA released a ‘paper’ giving a comparative analysis of regional drug strategies across the world.1 The paper explores the drug strategies and action plans adopted over the last five years by six intergovernmental organisations, involving 148 countries in four continents. The purpose of the EMCDDA paper is to inform decision-makers, professionals and researchers working on international drug policy about the way in which countries in the same region have decided to strategically approach drug-related security, social and health problems. 

Intergovernmental organisations that have adopted regional drug strategies and actions plans

  1. African Union (AU)
  2. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  3. Organization of American States (OAS)
  4. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  5. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
  6. European Union (EU)

Drug policy principles

The EMCDDA paper analyses the main principles, objectives and approaches adopted in the various intergovernmental drug strategies. The analysis highlights five key principles adopted to varying degrees in the different regions:

  • Respect for human rights in implementing drug policy is prominent in the EU, OAS and AU strategies. The EU’s drug strategy explicitly mentions the European Charter of Fundamental Rights while that of the OAS refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The strategies and plans of the ECOWAS, ASEAN and SCO organisations place particular emphasis on the individual’s right to safety and security and the threat that drug use and trafficking pose to these rights.
  • Common and shared responsibility for drug policy, i.e. aiming to reconcile the goals and aspirations of producing and consuming countries, is strong in the OAS document and is mentioned in both African documents and in the EU strategy.
  • The reduction of poverty and fostering development are central to both African strategies.
  • Effective law enforcement as the sine qua non of peace, security and stability is highlighted in both Asian strategies.

Policy approaches

The approach of the strategies and plans is similar, focusing on reducing the drugs phenomenon and organising activities around supply reduction and demand reduction pillars. The EMCDDA paper reports that that there is more diversity in approaches to demand reduction than in those to supply reduction, which are relatively uniform.

  • Supply reduction approaches adopt a common paradigm of doing ‘more and better’. More collaboration among national law enforcement services, more intelligence-led activities and more exchange of data and intelligence are among the measures most often mentioned. The intention to monitor law enforcement and supply reduction activities and their results is seen as ‘an interesting innovation’.
  • Preventing drug use is mentioned in all the strategies, but the measures described to achieve this goal are diverse, ranging from mass media campaigns to interventions tailor-made to address specific risk factors or populations.
  • Treatment – most strategies call for evidence-based practice. All set the goal of drug treatment in the same broad terms – to treat addiction and promote social reintegration. Recovery from addiction and full reintegration and resocialisation of drug addicts into society is the objective most often mentioned. Some strategies focus on improving the effectiveness of treatments through better access, wider coverage and better quality.
  • Reducing harm (and risk) caused by drugs is specifically addressed only in the EU strategy. It is referred to in the OAS strategy, albeit with different wording – a reduction of the adverse consequences of drug abuse.
  • Evaluation – the drugs strategy of the OAS is said to stand out because it promotes evaluation and assessment in all areas: ‘The document suggests integrating the scientific community into the design, implementation and evaluation of policies, and invites member countries to promote periodic and independent evaluations in the areas of demand and supply reduction, linking the results of evaluation to the allocation of resources.’

Regional policy issues

The EMCDDA paper suggests that regional drug strategies introduce a third political dimension, located between national plans, which aim to address purely national or local issues, and policy declarations at the UN level, which represent a very broad consensus. The paper highlights ‘specificities’ that do not emerge in the UN context and which are too varied to be analysed at national level:

  • All regions express overall support for international drug control principles.
  • Drugs strategies are part of a wider regional integration process, often of an economic nature.
  • Regional drugs strategies help to foster a unified regional vision on drugs.
  • Accountability and obligations imposed on members of the regional associations because of the common drugs strategy are largely of a political, rather than a legal or binding, nature.
  • The development of regional drugs strategies have helped to rebalance drugs policy, favouring a more health-oriented approach.
  • Regional strategies put a strong emphasis on monitoring systems to collect data, analyse trends and support decision-making towards evidence-based policies.

Although it is too soon to say how these regional policies will influence international drug control policy, the authors of the EMCDDA paper suggest that they represent an interesting policy development within the international drugs policy scene, and are ‘well worth a look’.


1. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2014) Regional strategies across the world: a comparative analysis of intergovernmental policies and approaches. EMCDDA Papers. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21543/

Item Type
Issue Title
Issue 50, Summer 2014
July 2014
Page Range
pp. 4-5
Health Research Board
Issue 50, Summer 2014
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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