Changing the Global Perception of Drugs

The panellists discuss current perceptions surrounding drugs that contribute to how governments shape policy, before setting out their own recommendations for the international community.

Members event, Panel Recording
9 January 2018 — 6:00PM TO 7:15PM
Chatham House, London

According to the UN, approximately 5 per cent of the world’s adult population used drugs at least once in 2015. In the same year there were at least 190,000 drug-related deaths - mostly overdoses and mostly from opioids. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals encouraged governments to tackle substance use by ‘strengthening prevention and treatment’. However, the Global Commission on Drug Policy suggests that drug use has been exacerbated, not alleviated, by current drug control policies and there has been little improvement in the provision of drug treatment or prevention services.

This event constitutes the launch of the new report by the Global Commission, Countering the World Drug PERCEPTION Problem, which presents the case that due to negative perceptions regarding both drugs and people who use drugs, what are seemingly technical questions – such as the efficacy of harm reduction services – are instead debated as moral ones, which is unhelpful to achieving results.

The panel suggests that leaders must aim to change public opinions and perceptions on drug use by providing reliable, consistent information and promoting the use of non-stigmatizing and non-discriminatory language. They also lay out how the public can take part in the debate and keep governments, media and healthcare professionals accountable when debating and making drug policy.

This event is in association with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, established in 2011 by political leaders, cultural figures and globally influential personalities from the financial and business sectors. The Commission currently comprises 25 members, including 12 former heads of state or government ministers, a former secretary general of the United Nations and three Nobel Prize laureates. Its mission is to promote evidence-based drug policy reforms. These reforms must also address issues of public health, social integration and security, with strict regard for human rights.


Helen Clark ONZ PC, Prime Minister, New Zealand (1999-2008); Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (2009-17)

Sir Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, United Kingdom (2010-15); Leader, Liberal Democrats (2007-15)

Ruth Dreifuss, President, Switzerland (1999); Chair, Global Commission on Drug Policy

Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion (2004-10)

Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (2007-12)

Olusegun Obasanjo, President, Nigeria (1999-2007)

Chair: Dr Patricia Lewis, Research Director, International Security, Chatham House

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