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Drugs and Development: Punishing the Poor

In collaboration with the Open Society Foundation’s Global Drug Policy Program, the CEU School of Public Policy presents a series of debates devoted to complex and interdisciplinary issues raised by illicit drugs and global and national policy responses to drugs. The next public event, Drugs and Development: Punishing the Poor, will be held February 20 at 5:30 p.m. at CEU.

The first debate of the series held in November 2012 focused on the seemingly incompatible objectives of national drug policy—ensuring public health and conducting effective policing. As the international community is pouring an extraordinary amount of resources into fighting the supply of and demand for illegal drugs, the second panel will investigate the relationship between drug- and development policy, and in particular the unintended economic consequences of the international drug war. 

Throughout many parts of the developing world, the cultivation of illicit crops is the only economically viable option for small farmers. Despite major investments in alternative livelihood programs, such efforts have rarely met with success and in some cases, actually worsened living conditions. Elsewhere, poor young people with little access to education and few opportunities for employment may turn to drug consumption or be drawn into other roles in the drug trade. These people take on the most hazardous jobs and face the greatest risk of ending up in conflict with the law, either at home or abroad.

Even crime reduction—a critical element in ensuring development—presents a number of risks. In many parts of the world, efforts to crack down on drugs have resulted in serious human rights abuses. In extreme cases, this has even risen to incidents of summary, arbitrary or extrajudicial killings. In countries with harsh drug laws, a high percentage of drug users may be in prison or pretrial detention at some point in their lives. These facilities often offer little in terms of HIV prevention services and pose a high-risk environment for transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses or bacterial infections. Moreover, harsh laws may drive people at risk away from life-saving services.

To succeed in both drug control and achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, countries must provide other opportunities to those most likely to find drug markets to be their most viable means of survival, and they must ensure that reducing drug crime does not violate human rights or undermine HIV services.


  • Wolfgang Reinicke, Dean, CEU School of Public Policy
  • Julia Buxton, Head of International Relations and Security Studies, Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK
  • William Byrd, United States Institute for Peace, Senior Afghanistan Expert, former World Bank country manager and economic adviser for Afghanistan, US
  • Javier Gonzales-Skaric, Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit (OCDI), Spain
  • Balazs Denes, Project Director, European Civil Liberties Project, Open Society Foundations, former Executive Director, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (moderator)

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