We’ve lost the war on drugs. These 4 charts show why

aboratory equipment used in the productions of methamphetamine hydrochloride or Shabu is seen during a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency destruction of chemicals and other evidence in Valenzuela city, north of Manila, Philippines May 24, 2016.

Image: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Mark Jones
Head of Digital Content, The World Economic Forum
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale

Countries on the frontline of the war on drugs have been losing patience with global efforts to tackle the issue.

At the request of Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala, a special session of the UN discussed the lack of progress in April.

But new measures agreed in New York disappointed many with their focus on prohibition – the same approach that has failed to dent targets for two decades.

So how bad have things got in the global war on drugs?

1. The number of illicit drug users is still rising

Image: World Drug Report 2015, UNODC

The UN estimates that 246 million people – 5% of the 15-64 age group – used an illicit drug in 2013.

Men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines. Women are more likely to misuse prescription opioids and tranquilizers.

2. Efforts to stem supply are failing

Image: World Drug Report 2015, UNODC

While coca bush cultivation has fallen, opium poppy production is up and most other indicators of supply are at best flat.

3. There's been a sharp growth in synthetic drugs

Image: World Drug Report 2015, UNODC

Methamphetamine dominates the global market for synthetic drugs. By December 2014, 541 new psychoactive substances with a negative health impact had been reported – a 20% increase on the previous year.

4. Portugal's experiment with drug legalization seems to be working

Image: Transform Drug Policy Foundation

More than 30 countries have some form of drug legalization. There's particular interest in Portugal, which took a radical step towards decriminalizing drug possession in 2001.

After an initial increase in dependency, drug use has been falling in Portugal and is below the level before the law was changed. Drug-related deaths have fallen by 80%.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum