Skip to main content

The Impact of Drug Policies on Children and Young People

As member states of the United Nations take stock of the drug control system, a number of debates have emerged among governments about how to balance international drug laws with human rights, public health, alternatives to incarceration, and experimentation with regulation. This series intends to provide a primer on why governments must not turn a blind eye to pressing human rights and public health impacts of current drug policies.

Children and young people are appropriately at the forefront of public and political concerns about drugs and the drug trade. Nobody wants to see children and young people harmed by drug use, whether it is their own, a parent’s, or a family member’s.

All too often, however, the threat to children and young people presented by drugs is merely stated without sufficient scrutiny of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the measures adopted to protect them, hindering accountable evaluation and policy deliberation. While there are many positive programs and guidelines from which to learn, it cannot be overlooked that many strategies to counter the “world drug problem” have had documented negative effects for children and young people. Important gaps in our understanding of drug use, drug-related harms, and children’s involvement in the drug trade must also be recognized.

The Impact of Drug Policies on Children and Young People looks briefly at available data on drug use, drug-related harms, and children’s involvement in the drug trade, and provides an overview of some of the ways in which children and young people are harmed by drug control efforts, from the extreme to the commonplace, and sets out some recommendations for a meaningful focus on children and young people at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) and beyond.

Sign up for updates on Open Society’s work around the world