Office of National Drug Control Policy

Principles of Modern Drug Policy

The three United Nations drug control conventions are the foundation of the global effort to reduce drug use and its consequences.  To implement the conventions in the 21st century, the United States commits itself to the following principles and encourages other nations to do the same:

  1. Ensure Balanced, Compassionate, and Humane Drug Policies. Modern drug policies must acknowledge that drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.  Public health and public safety initiatives are complementary and equally vital to achieving reductions in drug use and its consequences.   The drug policy challenge facing the world today is not a choice between an enforcement-only “war on drugs” on the one hand and the extreme notion of drug legalization on the other.  Rather, the challenge lies in combining cost-effective, evidence-based approaches that protect public health and safety.
  2. Integrate Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Support Services into Public Health Systems. Public health approaches, such as evidenced-based prevention, screening and brief interventions in healthcare settings, drug treatment programs, and recovery support services, are vital components of an effective drug control strategy.  There is overwhelming scientific evidence that drug prevention, treatment, and recovery services are cost-effective ways to reduce drug use and its consequences.
  3. Protect Human Rights. Respect for human rights is an integral part of drug policy.  Citizens, especially children, have the right to be safe from illegal drug use and associated crime, violence, and other consequences—whether in their family or the community.  Drug-involved offenders who have contact with the criminal justice system deserve to be supervised with respect for their basic human rights and be provided with services to treat their underlying substance use disorder.
  4. Reduce Drug Use to Reduce Drug Consequences. The best way to reduce the substantial harms associated with drugs is to reduce drug use itself.  Public health services for individuals who use drugs, including HIV interventions for people who inject drugs, should be implemented in the context of comprehensive, recovery-oriented public health systems that also provide drug users access to treatment for addiction.  Policies and programs such as injection rooms, drug distribution efforts, and drug legalization should be opposed because they tolerate drug use and allow the debilitating disease of addiction to continue untreated.
  5. Support and Expand Access to Medication-Assisted Therapies. Recent innovations in medication-assisted therapies have demonstrated increasing effectiveness in reducing drug use and its consequences.  These medications should be further studied to identify new therapies and best practices in program implementation.
  6. Reform Criminal Justice Systems to Support both Public Health and Public Safety. Criminal justice systems play a vital role in breaking the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.  While individuals should be held responsible for breaking the law, the criminal justice system should help bring them into contact with treatment services if they are suffering from a substance use disorder.  This includes providing treatment services in correctional facilities, providing alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts for non-violent drug-involved offenders, and using monitoring, drug testing, and other means to ensure recovery from illegal drug use.
  7. Disrupt Drug Trafficking. Transnational criminal organizations should be targeted with a focus on the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of drug traffickers, the seizure of illegal assets, disruption of drug production networks, control of precursor chemicals, and the eradication of illegal drug crops.  International cooperation on information exchange, extradition, and training and technical assistance should be strengthened to eliminate safe harbors for transnational criminal organizations.
  8. Address the Drug Problem as a Shared Responsibility. Drug use, production, and trafficking are increasingly globalized problems and pose challenges to all of our nations.  Because of the global nature of today’s drug markets, international cooperation is essential to protect public health and safety.
  9. Support the UN Drug Conventions: The three UN Drug Conventions are the foundation of our global drug control efforts and are effective in their current form.  Efforts to renegotiate the Conventions should be opposed.  
  10. Protect Citizens from Drugs:Drugs are illegal because their use is dangerous not only to users but to society as a whole.  We are committed to protecting all citizens, including those in recovery, from the tragic consequences of illegal drug use.