Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Global Drug Policy Index?
The Global Drug Policy Index is a unique accountability tool that documents, measures and compares national-level drug policies. It provides each country with a score from 0 to 100, where 100 represents full alignment of a selected core of drug policies and their implementation with the United Nations recommendations on human rights, health and development, as laid down in the UN System Common Position on drugs. The first iteration of the Global Drug Policy Index was released in November 2021, and it evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world, for the year 2020.
What does the Index measure?
The Global Drug Policy Index measures how drug policies align with many of the key recommendations included in the 2018 United Nations Common Position on drugs, and more specifically the related 2019 United Nations report ‘What we have learned over the last ten years: A summary of knowledge acquired and produced by the UN system on drug-related matters’. These provide authoritative guidance on how to design and implement drug policies in accordance with the United Nations principles of health, human rights, and development.
The Index is composed of 75 indicators that run across 5 dimensions:
- The absence of extreme sentencing and responses to drugs, such as the death penalty
- The proportionality of the criminal justice responses to drugs
- Funding, availability and coverage of harm reduction interventions
- Availability of international controlled substances for pain relief
What are the objectives of the Global Drug Policy Index?
The Index is the first-ever global accountability and evaluation mechanism to describe and assess national drug policies and their implementation. It has four overarching objectives:
- Describing the range of drug responses implemented by countries across the world
- Identifying key aspects of drug policies that require urgent action
- Facilitating global, regional and national discussions between civil society, affected communities and policy makers
- Guiding national-level policymaking priorities.
What is the expected impact of the Global Drug Policy Index?
We expect that governments will begin to move away from harmful and repressive responses to drugs, as the Index provides them with new and objective data on the alignment of their drug policies with health, human rights and development. For years, states have conducted drug policy on the basis of the wrong indicators, using skewed and insufficient data framed by the disastrous goal of achieving a ‘society free of drugs’. With the Global Drug Policy Index, governments will gain a new framework for measuring how drug policies align with UN recommendations, and will be able to use these data to correct course. In addition to that, civil society and communities now have a robust tool for holding governments accountable, and to ensure that their policies are based on health, human rights and development.
Why is the Global Drug Policy Index necessary now?
50 years after the escalation of the global ‘war on drugs’, punitive drug policies continue to bring uncounted harm to health, human rights and development. At the same time, the global consensus on drug prohibition has reached a breaking point; the use of certain drugs is decriminalised in some countries, but in others it can lead to compulsory detention, life imprisonment, or even death.
In this historical crossroads, existing tools that track global drugs generally tend to provide an incomplete and skewed picture, as they mostly focus on indicators related to law enforcement (i.e., arrests, seizures, or eradication of crops), or simple prevalence rates, and they rely almost exclusively on data provided by governments, which have varying levels of reliability and comparability. The Global Drug Policy Index seeks to fill this gap by focusing on a comprehensive review of drug policies in the areas of health, human rights and development, focusing on both policies on the books and their implementation, and sourcing data from existing research as well as civil society and community experts.
Who is the target audience of the Global Drug Policy Index?
- For governments, the Index is an evaluation mechanism to track progress towards aligning their drug policies with UN standards, and to see how different policies adopted by other countries are performing towards the same goal.
- For UN agencies, the Index is a tool to measure progress towards the alignment of national drug policies with the recommendations included in the UN System Common Position on drugs and in international human rights law and standards.
- For civil society and community networks, the Index is an invaluable tool to assess the design, impact, and implementation of national policies, and to hold governments accountable and to advocate for reform.
- For academia, the Index provides a robust and transparent source of data that can be incorporated to research..
- For the media, the Index includes critical data, as well as stories and lived experiences of communities, which can be used to inform high-quality coverage.
- For the general public, the Index can be a first introduction to the complexities, range, and impacts of drug policies, and to understand the divergences across the world.
Who has developed the Global Drug Policy Index?
The Global Drug Policy Index is a project of the Harm Reduction Consortium, a global partnership of civil society, community networks and academia aiming to challenge the global ‘war on drugs’. The development of the 2021 edition of the Index involved the participation of a broad range of experts from academia, civil society and communities, who are listed here.
Will there be other editions of the Global Drug Policy Index?
We are currently seeking additional funding to produce new iterations of the Index on a biennial basis, with additional countries being added over time. As drug policy reforms unfold globally, including amongst others in the area of legal regulation, more indicators may be included and our methodology may be refined to reflect lessons learned, and any significant changes.
2. The scope of the Global Drug Policy Index
What countries are covered by the Global Drug Policy Index?
The 2021 edition of the Index covers 30 countries from all regions of the world. These countries are: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Georgia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda and the United Kingdom.
We hope that this list will be expanded in future iterations of the Index.
How were these countries selected?
In this first iteration of the Global Drug Policy Index, resource limitations required us to focus on 30 countries only. In order to ensure that these countries were geographically representative, we selected at least one country from each of the 17 sub-regions that have been utilised for years by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The selection was made on the basis of three criteria:
- Relevance of drug policy for the selected country
- Data availability on drugs and drug policy within the country
- In-country presence of civil society organisations that could use the Index for drug policy advocacy without fear of reprisals.
Why is the United States of America not included in the Index?
Because of resource limitations, the first edition of the Global Drug Policy Index focuses on only 30 countries, which were selected using the methodology outlined above. Some countries with large populations or complex federal systems, such as China, the United States of America or Nigeria, were not selected, although we hope to include these countries in future iterations of the Index.
The specific case of the United States of America, data collection in a country with such wide state-level differences in drug laws and their implementation would have presented a significant logistical challenge to this first iteration of the Index. The United States would almost require its very own drug policy index. We therefore opted for other countries within the ‘North America’ region that satisfied our selection criteria. We also added other, less complex, federal countries like Australia and Canada to test our methodology.
Why does the ‘development’ dimension include data for only four countries?
The ‘development’ dimension of the Index only includes data for countries that have adopted an ‘alternative development’ or ‘alternative livelihoods’ policy – namely, formal policies that seek to eliminate the cultivation of crops destined to the illegal drug market by addressing the vulnerabilities of communities involved in growing them. Countries that have not adopted a formal alternative development policy are excluded from this dimension, even though in some cases their drug policies can have important development implications, and there is some level of cultivation of crops used for illegal drug production in various countries covered in this first edition of the Index.
In this first iteration of the Index, the countries included in the development dimension are Afghanistan, Colombia, Jamaica, and Thailand. For the remaining 26 countries, the absence of a ‘development’ dimension does not negatively impact their overall score.
What drug policies are measured in the Global Drug Policy Index?
The Global Drug Policy Index is composed of 75 indicators that run across 5 dimensions. The policies assessed in each of these dimensions are summarised below, and are all drawn from the recommendations included in the UN Task Team report ‘What we have learned over the last ten years: A summary of knowledge acquired and produced by the UN system on drug-related matters’.
|Absence of extreme sentencing and responses to drugs||The death penalty for drug offences Extrajudicial killings connected to drug control Militarisation of drug responses Life imprisonment for drug offences Compulsory detention connected to drug treatment|
|Proportionality of criminal justice responses||Human rights violations in the criminal justice system Proportionality in sentencing for drug offences Criminalisation of people who use drugs Perception of impact on marginalised groups|
|Health and harm reduction||Policy prioritisation of harm reduction Sustainable funding for harm reduction Coverage of harm reduction services Perception of inequities in access to harm reduction|
|Availability of international controlled substances for the relief of pain||Policy prioritisation of access to controlled medicines Actual availability of controlled medicines Perception of inequities in access to controlled medicines|
|Development||Existence of alternative development policies Management of crop eradication Perception of impact for key beneficiaries|
Is the legal regulation of drugs like cannabis included in the Index?
No. Country scores are not impacted by the presence, or absence, of regulated markets for certain drugs. This is because the legal regulation of cannabis or other scheduled substances is not discussed in the UN System Common Position on drug-related matters, or in the Task Team’s report.
Does the Index measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
No. The disruption brought about by the pandemic is a singular occurrence that began in early 2020 and that - while still ongoing - is likely to subside in the longer term. Therefore, indicators explicitly focused on COVID-19 may not be replicable in future iterations of a long-term project like the Global Drug Policy Index. Furthermore, lack of pre-2020 data would make it impossible to use this edition of the Index to accurately assess the differential impact of the pandemic on drug policies.
Does the Index include health outcome indicators, such as the prevalence of drug use, drug-related deaths, or the drug-related transmission of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or hepatitis C?
No. The Global Drug Policy Index seeks to measure policies on the books and their implementation against UN recommendations, but it does not aim to describe the actual drugs or health situation in a country (including health outcome indicators such as drug use prevalence, drug-related deaths, or the transmission of blood-borne viruses).
Does the Index include drug control or market-size indicators, such as the number of people detained for drug offences, or the amounts of illegal drugs seized by law enforcement?
No. Similar to health-related outcomes (see above), the Global Drug Policy Index does not aim to describe the situation and size of drug markets themselves, or the performance of drug enforcement agencies. Instead, it seeks to measure the design and implementation of drug policies against UN recommendations.
You can find global data on the evolution of drug markets in the UNODC World Drug Report, which is published on a yearly basis.
Why does the Index not include indicators concerning drug prevention policy?
While we identified drug prevention as one of the policy goals included in the UN Task Team report, the lack of reliable or standardised data and evaluations on drug prevention at global level meant that this policy area could not feature in the first iteration of the Global Drug Policy Index.
How was the Global Drug Policy Index developed?
The first edition of the Global Drug Policy Index was developed by the Harm Reduction Consortium throughout 2020 and 2021, in a process that included:
- Initial consultations with drugs and data experts to define the structure of the Index
- The creation of a Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) to support the Index development team
- The identification of the relevant policy recommendations in the UN Task Team report, as well as of indicators relevant to these recommendations
- Data collection through desk-based analysis and an international survey of civil society experts in each country covered by the Index
- An international survey of drug policy analysts to create indicator weights, and a ‘Delphi’ process for the SAG to agree on cluster and dimension weights, in order to achieve a final country score
- Processing the data collected to produce Index scores, verifying the robustness and sensitiveness of the Index, and removing systemic biases.
You can find more information on the Index methodology here.
How was data collected?
Data was collected through a mixed-methods approach that included:
- A desk-based analysis of countries’ drug policy frameworks by the coding team at Swansea University
- A survey of civil society experts across the 30 countries covered by the Index, that was made available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Arabic, and received 371 responses
You can find more information on data collection and compilation here.
How does the Index capture data on drug policy implementation?
One of the unique features of the Global Drug Policy Index is that it seeks to assess not only the design, but also the implementation of drug policies - such as the actual coverage of harm reduction services or the differential impact of law enforcement on marginalised groups. To respond to this challenge, the Index relies on the perceptions of individuals with specialist knowledge of drug policy in each country, which were collated through the survey of civil society experts.
Because the Index measures experts’ perception, it is possible that some country-by-country differences in expectations and standards surrounding issues such as racial and gender-based discrimination or levels of police violence are expressed in the data, as they rely on expert perceptions. To help standardise the understanding of the issues covered by the Index and survey, detailed guidance was provided to expert survey respondents.
Which is more relevant - Index rankings or individual country scores?
Considering that this first edition of the Index only covers 30 states out of a possible 193, it is more instructive to examine the overall scores achieved by each individual country, as well as the dimension scores and the constituent scores beneath them. Index rankings can be usefully used to compare the performance of states already included in the Index, especially when they are from the same region. That said, with a relatively limited list of states under consideration, Index rankings cannot be extrapolated into actual global rankings for the 193 states in the world.
For instance, while Norway obtains the maximum score in the 2021 edition of the Index (74/100), this does not mean that Norway’s drug policies are better aligned with UN recommendations on health, human rights and development than all other countries in the world, as it is underscored by the fact that Norway still criminalises drug use and possession for personal use, with serious health and human rights consequences for people who use drugs in the country.
The political situation in Afghanistan is extremely volatile. How and when did you collect the data?
Afghanistan scores relatively high in the Index, ranking 14th out of the 30 countries. While we want to vindicate the Index´s capacity to upend assumptions and expectations, two elements should be taken into consideration to understand the results. First, data on Afghanistan were collected before the Taliban military takeover in August 2021, and it aims to capture the situation in 2020. Therefore, the impact of the regime change is not reflected in this edition of the Index. Secondly, when the expert civil society survey was launched the Taliban military offensive was already unfolding, which caused considerable difficulties for in-country respondents and resulted in some responses coming from experts living outside of Afghanistan. This might explain the fact that perceptions on certain drug policy issues covered might seem overly positive compared to how similar issues were perceived and scored by local civil society in other countries.
4. Key findings of the 2021 Global Drug Policy Index
What is the main finding of the 2021 Global Drug Policy Index?
No country should be proud of its drug policies, and no country has come close enough to realising the evidence-based recommendations of the United Nations.
Even the top-ranking country (Norway), only achieves an overall score of 74/100, and obtains a particularly poor result on the proportionality of its criminal justice response (total score of 49/100). At the same time, the Index highlights how drug policies disproportionately impact people on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status and place of residence, across all dimensions, with countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, Portugal, or the UK scoring particularly badly on equity indicators.
Why do ‘Global North’ countries generally achieve higher scores than ‘Global South’ countries?
In addition to the low scores achieved across the board, the Index reveals a deep divide in states’ approaches to drugs. Global inequities, in part due to the legacy of colonialism, play a significant role in explaining this situation. The devastating long-term impacts of colonialism are both magnified and exemplified by the global drug control regime’s reliance on punitive and stigmatising approaches to drugs. These differentiated impacts must be considered and addressed, including through demands for policy reform and reparations.
While acknowledging these realities, the high score achieved by some ‘Global South’ countries on certain policies (for instance, Jamaica ranks first in the dimension on ‘proportionality of the criminal justice response’) shows that this trend can be successfully reversed. In that regard, the Index shows that it is in the interest of communities worldwide to divest from costly and counterproductive drug law enforcement measures, reform damaging and disproportionate laws, and redirect investment in health-focused social and community programmes.
What are the main findings of the Index dimension on extreme sentencing and responses?
- 3 out of 30 countries retain the death penalty for drug offences - India, Indonesia, Thailand. Indonesia is the only high-application state, and scores the lowest in this dimension at 35/100.
- 50% of the countries surveyed reported some level of lethal force/extrajudicial killings by military and law enforcement officials. These were regarded as widespread in Mexico, and endemic in Brazil (with more than 40 cases in 2020 alone).
- 27 out of 30 countries reported that the army or special security forces play some role in the enforcement of drug laws. This involvement was reported as being endemic in 5 out of 30 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico and North Macedonia.
- In 25 out of 30 countries, people who use drugs are deprived of liberty against their will in the name of drug ‘treatment’.
What are the main findings of the dimension on proportionality and criminal justice?
- 24 out of the 30 countries included in the Index scored below 50/100 on this dimension, with Kenya and Uganda scoring particularly low at 13/100 and 17/100 respectively.
- In only 6 out of the 30 countries police violence in the enforcement of drug laws was reported to be rare or non-existent. Arbitrary detention in the enforcement of drug laws was reported to be rare in only 3 countries.
- Criminal justice responses to drugs were perceived as having a disproportionate impact on low-income groups in all countries, while the gendered impacts of drug control were reported as a trend in Latin American countries.
- Criminal justice responses to drug markets continue to focus on non-violent offences, with over a third of countries given a score of 0/100 on that thematic cluster.
- Only 8 out of 30 countries have decriminalised drug use and possession at national level, and only 3 of those (Colombia, Jamaica, Portugal) have seen a reduction in the number of people who use drugs in contact with the criminal justice system as a result of decriminalisation.
- 24 out of 30 countries have mandatory minimum penalties for drug offences, which is a key driver of incarceration.
What are the main findings of the dimension on health and harm reduction?
- All but 5 countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mozambique, Russia) have an explicit reference to harm reduction in national policy documents. But there is a huge gap between policy and implementation.
- Only 5 out of 30 countries have secured an 'adequate' level of investment in harm reduction (Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, UK). Of these five , in only one country this level of investment is perceived as 'secure' in the next 3 to 5 years.
- 24 out of 30 countries scored below 50/100 on availability of harm reduction interventions for those in need. While over two thirds of countries have at least 1 NSP, 1 OAT, 1 take-home naloxone programme and 1 drug checking service, only a handful have secured wide coverage for interventions.
- Experts reported important obstacles in access to harm reduction services for women and LGBTQI+ people in 9 out of the 30 countries, and for people of minority ethnicities in 7 out of the 30 countries.
What are the main findings of the dimension on access to medicines for the relief of pain?
- All but 5 countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mozambique, Russia) have an explicit reference to harm reduction in national policy documents. But there is a huge gap between policy and implementation.
- There is a huge gap between policy and implementation when it comes to ensuring access to medicines for the relief of pain. Countries like India, Indonesia, Mexico and Senegal scored high on policies on paper (75/100 for the first three, 84/100 for Senegal) while all of them scored 0/100 for actual availability of medicines for those in need.
- Geographical location and socio-economic status were perceived as discriminatory factors in accessing controlled medicines in 11 out of 30 and 15 out of 30 of countries surveyed respectively.
- In 12 out of 30 countries, people who use drugs were perceived as facing major barriers in accessing pain medication.
What are the main findings of the dimension on development?
- Out of the four countries evaluated in this dimension, the highest score was a mere 48/100 for Thailand. Colombia scores particularly low with 23/100. This is due to the country’s emphasis on forced crop eradication, militarised strategies, and plans to use aerial spraying.
- Afghanistan is the only country in which alternative development policies include some sort of adequate sequencing provision, allowing farmers to have alternative means of subsistence before crops destined to the illegal market are destroyed (note that this is data from 2020).
- Only Thailand ensured some community involvement in the design and implementation of alternative development policies, which is essential to ensure that the programme responds to local communities' needs.
- Experts reported that alternative development policies had resulted in moderate benefits for women, youth and low-income groups in Afghanistan only (note that this was reported by some experts not living in the country, due to the current political crisis). In the other three countries benefits were reported as ‘limited’- showing that alternative development programmes have achieved their stated aims.
5. Get involved with the Global Drug Policy Index
How can I use the Global Drug Policy Index?
Whether you are a public official, a civil society activist or a journalist, you can use the resources included in the GDPI website and in the GDPI analytical report to understand global trends in drug policy, and to assess the performance of any given country. These resources include:
- Global rankings, which rank countries’ performances by policy dimension
- Individual country fact sheets that summarise the scores obtained by each country, and compare them to the median of the Index
- Testimonies from people who have been directly affected by drug policies in each of the 30 countries
- A detailed description of the methodology employed in developing the Index
- The analytical report for the 2021 edition of the Index, which also provides an analysis of the key global trends, as well as introductory notes on the methodology, development and scope of the project, and a collection of the 30 country fact sheets.
I would like to use the GDPI dataset for my own research and advocacy. How can I access it?
The raw dataset can be accessed here.
I would like to provide feedback on the methodology, score, or usefulness of the Index. How can I do that?
You can get in touch with us at any time to send us feedback via our ‘Contact us’ page.