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Drug abuse and trafficking remain among the biggest world challenges. This is still one of the three most profitable illegal businesses in the World (alongside the trafficking in human beings and the arms trafficking), and is a key destabilizing factor for states and societies around the world. The world philosophy on tackling the drugs challenge has been shifting in the past two decades - from a "war on drugs" to "putting the safety and health of citizens first" and from only tackling the supply to also limiting the demand of drugs.
The EU is in the forefront of introducing new approaches and developing the legislation and judicial practice in the field. The EU is also a consistent provider of assistance to both healthcare and social integration of drug abusers and to countering the supply of drugs (fighting organized crime, enhancing border management and capacity building). The EU is particularly committed to upholding fundamental and human rights when building and implementing drug policies, with particular devotion to the abolition of death penalty, including for drug related offences, to the rights of drug abusers and, when appropriate, adequate access to controlled medicines.
As a strategic guide in its international actions in the fight against drugs, the EU uses the notion of ‘drug routes’, particularly in the case of cocaine and heroin. The routes define, the movement – and the counter-measures from cultivation to entry points to the European market and include both the producing and transit countries for these drugs. The objective of defining these routes is to identify more easily the needs in the EU fight against drugs as well as its links with other forms of trafficking and crime that can follow the same routes.
Alternative development is an important measure promoted by the EU. It is a long term approach to tackle the root causes of drug crop cultivation: poverty, local conflicts, weak statehood, poor infrastructure, insufficient access to legal markets, lack of capacity to grow alternative crops. The EU is in favour of eradicating crops only if there is a viable alternative for the growers.
The EU policy is based on the three fundamental UN Conventions on drugs (1961, 1971 and 1988) and the Universal Human Rights instruments are the cornerstones of the World drugs policy. They allow for a wide range of actions from prevention, early identification, treatment and care, rehabilitation, social reintegration, to countering drug trafficking, including through alternative development and regional and international cooperation. Two UN Special Sessions on Drugs (UNGASS), in 1998 and in 2016 have deepened the World's understanding and principles in this field.
The EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 and the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2013-2016 provide a common strategic framework for the EU external action. They address the need of assistance to third countries and application of the balanced approach in reducing the supply and demand for drugs. They provide instruments to address old and emerging trafficking routes such as West Africa, through a variety of projects, promotion of regional and intra-regional cooperation and intensification of the financial support.
The novelty, changing nature and increasing use of synthetic drugs, has led to adoption of the Joint Action on Synthetic Drugs. It implies close involvement, including internationally, of two EU agencies – the Lisbon’s Monitoring Centre (EMCDDA) and Europol.