European illicit drugs policy and global health

The use and abuse of addictive substances, whether controlled by the state, like alcohol and tobacco, or illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, have a major impact on health. Such drugs not only affect their users, but also have an impact on crime, violence and accident levels. Public concerns about the issue have been raised in recent years due to the high-profile role that injecting drug use has played in the spread of blood-borne infectious diseases such as HIV. However, equally important is the role that substance abuse has been shown to play in the epidemiology of mental illness. This was acknowledged in a 2008 World Health Organization initiative, the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which addresses mental, neurological and substance-abuse disorders and deaths together as related concerns.

 


Drugs prevention policies require international police and health action because of the close relationship between illicit drugs and crime. The smuggling and supply of cigarettes, alcohol, and soft and hard drugs support international criminal networks and smuggling routes that may, in turn, support the trafficking of women and children - most often for prostitution - or men for illicit labour. Such routes, leading back to sources in failed states, may also support international terrorism - the major source of heroin for Europe is from insurgent-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

The EU's interdisciplinary approach and action plan to combat drugs - with its acknowledgement of the need to coordinate internally and act externally - mirrors recent developments in Europe's strategy for health. Like drug use and addiction in a population, health is also a largely social phenomenon requiring coordination horizontally between various policy fields and vertically through different levels of government. Global health policy and drug policy professionals should be able to cooperate and learn from each other's experiences in tackling such large-scale issues, which depend on effective collective action.

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