Side Event: Improving system-wide coherence by reprioritising metrics to evaluate illicit drug policy

Side event organised by ICSDP, GDPO, Transform, IDPC, Switzerland, Mexico and Brazil. 

Dave Bewley-Taylor, University of Swansea Global Drug Policy Observatory. The Sustainable Development Goals that have been agreed by the United Nations further amplify the need for better drug policy metrics. Drugs can be seen as influential across all the Sustainable Development Goals – and especially in some, such as those on health and security. When time allows, we should analyse the targets and goals in detail to see which ones intersect with drug policy. We need to step outside of the drugs silo: many policies that affect drugs are not considered as drug policies, and many drug policies have large impacts outside of just drug supply and demand. And many states are already engaging in a review of drug metrics, in a more sophisticated way than is happening at the international level – which shows the lag here in Vienna. So we need to use the opportunities to talk about these issues in a more concrete way.

Dan Werb, International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. The ICSDP have released an open letter in January in New York, and a form of this will be published in The Lancet prior to the UNGASS. It is a scientific statement calling for a rethink of the metrics we use in drug policy across four areas: health, peace and security, development, and human rights. Metrics are a critical part of ensuring better drug policies, and measuring the capacity of drug policies to help or hinder society. We were happy to see language on metrics in the original draft of the UNGASS outcome document – but this language has been diluted and ultimately washed away in subsequent drafts. This shows a growing gulf between member states and regions in how the framework should look. But I am an optimist and I think we can overcome a lot of the issues and tensions, by creating really granular metrics to assess policies in specific regions – rather than a top down exercise which tries to fit all drug policies into one box. For the ICSDP open letter, we gathered ten scientific leaders to look at decades of research on these issues. This was needed as the metrics we use now are not capturing the true impacts on communities. In the same way we think about carbon pricing, we need to capture all the externalities to understand the real impacts. So we first need to say ‘these are all the ways that drug policies impact communities’, and then build from that to say what we want the impacts to be. The ICSDP open letter maps out a few preliminary metrics that we propose, and some member states are already using some of these. To read the main call from the report: “We call on all national and international stakeholders (including UN member states and agencies) to commit to a formal revision of the metrics used to evaluate drug control policies, and to prioritize indicators that provide specific evidence on the impact of drugs and drug policies on communities. Further, this commitment to revising the set of priority indicators used to monitor the impact of drugs and drug policies should be an official outcome of the 2016 UNGASS process”.

We truly believe that developing a broad, effective set of metrics can only be achieved by an expert committee being created as a result of the UNGASS, and so this is also recommended in the open letter. Looking at Mexico, clear gaps exist between the law on the books and the law on the streets. This erodes the rule of law, and demonstrates the need for a broader set of metrics. Not doing so will hinder our capacity to implement effective drug policies.

Miguel Ruiz Cabanas, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mexico. I recognise the civil society leadership to drive the debate on system-wide coherence and metrics. The ultimate goal of drug policies should be to ensure the wellbeing of society and individuals. This is why Mexico has been enhancing its own strategies, addressing social exclusion and negative consequences such as violence. The world drug problem is a multi-factor phenomenon. The international community must take advantage of the expertise that we all have to improve the effectiveness of policies. Organised crime is an informal coalition of criminal groups which take advantage of national weaknesses and international trafficking networks. But existing strategies have not proven to be effective or efficient – they have increased costs and unintended consequences. In Mexico, we are considering a comprehensive approach to address this problem. This concept is reflected in the national programme, which includes: integrating wide coherence across nine different ministries (including health, law enforcement and social development); focused interventions and resources in the most problematic areas; shared implementation, including civil society organisations and local governments; and measurable strategies, with data on criminal behaviours to assess our policies. We are not avoiding law enforcement, we are trying to achieve a balance between law enforcement on one hand and the social impacts on another. Law enforcement are central to the response. They are essential to build safer communities. But we have also increased investments in education, labour, etc. We must enforce system-wide coherence to promote an effective international drug regime. The focus should be placed a multi-faceted responses involving all specialised agencies of the UN system – inputs coming from UNODC, but also UNDP, UNHCR, WHO, INCB, UN Women, UNAIDS, among others. To do this, we must establish roles and use indicators to measure the real results and impacts of drug policies. This is crucial.

The conventional metrics focus mainly on monitoring demand and supply: seizures, detentions, arrests, etc. We need indicators that go beyond these and allow us to measure the specific results of drug policies on various sectors of society – impacts on human rights, security and social development. Instead of narrowly assessing success or failure only on the supply and demand of drugs, the focus should also be placed on the harms as the ultimate goal should be to avoid use, pain and suffering for all individuals and communities. Increased development, reductions in incarceration for nonviolent crimes, reductions in drug deaths, to mention a few. To this end, member states must continue exchanging information on the metrics which they use. We can only achieve this will the support of all member states, UN entities and civil society. One of the results of UNGASS should be, and could be, to ask the UN Secretary General and the UN system to draft a set of indicators that represent different agencies’ work. This is a practical recommendation, and even if it is not made in the UNGASS outcome document, we can always come back here to Vienna to ask the UN to work on this.

Luiz Guilherme de Paiva, SENAD, Brazil. We have, in our constitution, a specific instrument for planning and budgeting across government. This defines the main guidelines, objectives and goals for long-term programmes, with an established mechanism for evaluation for these multi-annual plans – with timelines and checkpoints. The new period starts now, from 2016 to 2019. The guidelines include sustainable development, quality of public services, guarantees of human rights and equality, promotion of science and education, respect of cultural diversity, etc. The challenge was to provide system-wide coherence, and link the government mechanism to the Sustainable Development agenda and metrics. The mechanism was not that suitable for cross-cutting policies which include different budgets for different ministries – but eventually, we managed to establish a specific programme on alcohol and other drugs. This established a series of objectives that are linked to goals and metrics such as: strengthen prevention of use of alcohol and other drugs, especially among young people; expansion of care networks for families; and promotion of cross-sectoral management. Each objective has actions, goals and indicators. We chose to use existing metrics to do this as much as possible: percentages of students who have used drugs, HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis prevalence among drug users, plus some specific indicators which favour the cross-sectional work. The old metrics are still there (seizures, etc), but they are now established within a demand reduction programme. This is just starting, but we see it as a great opportunity to discuss the metrics themselves while the policy debates are taking place. There are of course challenges, but this is an improvement.

Christian Schneider, Swiss Federal Office of Police. I will be talking about metrics from a law enforcement perspective, and also from the Swiss perspective and our aspiration for a holistic drug policy. The standard metrics will not help us to measure the broader impacts of such a policy. Swiss drug policy aims to reduce drug consumption, the negative impacts on society, and the negative impacts on individual users. It comprises four pillars, which are different work streams rather than silos. The standard metrics are not helping us to measure impact – especially if we do not know the overall scale of the market and harms. There is a lot that we don’t know, due to the basic approach that we currently have in law enforcement. Even a big seizure does not increase prices or reduce harm or consumption. But we can look at how law enforcement works in the interface with other pillars: harm reduction, treatment and therapy. This raises the questions about what role law enforcement can play in reducing harm and supporting these services. These are more complex metrics, taking into account the health harms etc. These are things we can’t measure at the moment, but this is where we have to get to – to know how our work impacts on the lives of people.

Steve Rolles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Transform have launched the Alternative World Drug Report. The UNODC’s own World Drug Report has previously explored the unintended consequences of drug control, but it was hidden away on page 212 of the report. Yet it represented a remarkable statement from the organisation overseeing this policy initiative. Having identified the unintended consequences, there was then no systematic effort to monitor, evaluate or measure them in any meaningful way – no subsequent World Drug Report chapter focused on these harms, no metrics were established, and no process was put in place. Most importantly, the questions were not asked: are these unintended or intended negative consequences, and do they outweigh the positive consequences? This led to the Count the Costs initiative, calling for these harms to be measured in order to inform the policy response. We also looked at the financial costs, and the way that drug policy undermines peace and security, public health, the environment, and young people – a pretty miserable catalogue of horrors, and certainly not some reading to take to the beach! The Alternative World Drug Report looks at a wider source of data and information – not just the self-reporting from member states, which by their own admission is based on limited questions and incomplete and bias responses (if responses are sent at all).

On the coherence issue, one of the positive outcomes from the UNGASS is that it has brought inputs from across the UN family, which have often provided devastating critiques of the situation, similar to what civil society has already been saying. These inputs look at broader data and impacts, in a way that the World Drug Report continues not to. This has been incredibly valuable, so we need to make sure that we don’t wait another 18 years for it to happen again. This should be a core part of the UN reporting, not something that civil society has to push for, or do itself. The Alternative World Drug Report does discuss the metrics that are needed to address the gaps, so please read and support it.

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