Addressing Illicit Drug Challenges

The harms from drug abuse, drug trafficking and related violence do not stop at national borders. In the United States, the most recent White House National Drug Control Strategy represents a balanced, evidence-based plan for reducing drug use and its consequences. The balanced approach focuses on public health, particularly the need to utilize advances in the prevention and treatment of drug abuse, as well as on reforming criminal justice policies to reflect today’s challenges.

Because drug-related issues require shared global solutions, the U.S. Department of State plays a key role in implementing the Strategy. Previous distinctions between “producer” and “consumer” countries are falling away. Today, all countries must view drug policy from the perspectives of both public health and public safety. This requires a modern, evidence-based response. The most recent White House Drug Control Strategy, released in 2015, aims to utilize such a response to confront prescription drug misuse and heroin epidemic.

Mirroring the Strategy, INL programs reflect both the public health and law enforcement approach. Beyond programs, INL helped rally high-level international support behind such a pragmatic, balanced approach to drugs at the April 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, the first such global gathering to discuss drugs in a generation. The outcome document adopted at this UN session can be found here.

On the overseas drug demand reduction side, INL efforts draw on the latest advances in neuroscience to help partner governments and government-supported NGOs implement drug abuse prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and other social-service programs. For example, through the Child Drug Addiction Initiative, INL supports the development of the world’s first drug treatment protocols and related curricula for drug-addicted children in Latin America, Southwest Asia, and Afghanistan.

On the law enforcement side, INL provides full-spectrum support to foreign law enforcement partners confronting dangerous and well-organized drug trafficking organizations. INL’s Aviation programs help counternarcotics police reach remote areas where drugs are grown and processed as well as improve their ability to interdict illicit shipments and eradicate illicit crops used to make drugs. INL also works with partner governments to develop effective tools to prosecute drug traffickers, seize their assets, and limit their ability to influence state institutions.

In addition, INL is spearheading international efforts to limit the spread of synthetic, “designer” drugs, also known as new psychoactive substances. These substances, often marketed as “legal highs,” have caused serious health issues and fatalities among users. The manufacturers of these substances have shown an ability to alter their chemical composition to skirt existing drug laws, and putting them on the market faster than domestic legislation or international control measures can impose restrictions on them. To counter this, the United States and partners worldwide are strengthening international institutions that track the trade of these drugs and provide warnings so countries can mobilize their public health and law enforcement agencies to counter the problem.

Meeting the challenges posed by illegal drugs requires partnerships by a range of actors: NGOs, the education sector, public health institutions, law enforcement agencies, and local communities. These partnerships are as important among nations as within them and INL is dedicated to advancing this cooperation to limit the harmful consequences of international narcotics trafficking.