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Evidence-based policy solutions to the world drug problem

In communities across the world, from my constituency of Wrexham to Afghanistan, South America and Southeast Asia, illegal drugs pose one of the great policy challenges of our times. As we all know, in different and dangerous ways, they inflict huge damage to the lives of individuals and communities.

The world has struggled for decades to put together policies to deal with the threats that illegal drugs pose. The responses to the serious threat are hugely disparate and range from policies based upon severe punishment, including the death penalty, to policies based upon treatment, therapy and medical assistance for individual offenders. It was therefore a huge benefit to meet with representatives from across the world to discuss the impact of illegal drugs on their own communities, and to consider together what can be done to mitigate that impact at the recent UN Parliamentary Hearing organised by the IPU in New York.

What was clear was that the wide range of policy responses is based upon divergence of philosophy, morality and belief, not just evidence. Cultural differences mean that tolerance levels vary across the world and, in such a context, there can be no single solution to a hugely difficult problem. At different times, different approaches have varied from a ‘war on drugs’ to therapeutic approaches. None provide an easy solution.

What became clear from the evidence sessions is that a collection of evidence is necessary from the different communities that we represent. What steps have been taken by governments in countries across the world and which have been most effective in addressing the problems of illegal drugs in our communities?

The joint IPU/UN meeting was informative in presenting what steps have been most effective in securing progress in reducing the harm caused to individuals and communities by the use of illegal drugs. But it does seem extraordinary that with even the scale of the world drugs problem there is still no firm and accepted evidence base upon which we can found effective drugs policy.

There is, therefore, an urgent, continuing need to bring together individuals from across the globe with detailed accounts of what has been most effective policy within their own particular area and why. This meeting was an initial step in that direction but it is hugely important that that step is followed through and that we do have a standing committee which considers effective evidence from across the world to assist in the formulation of policies in specific nations.

Ian Lucas MP