Media Center



May 17, 2013 - Bogotá, Colombia

Approximately 45% of all the cocaine users in the world live in the Americas, along with approximately half the heroin users and a quarter of all marijuana users. The consumption of cocaine paste, crack, inhalants, amphetamines and the abuse of legal drugs has increased.

This consumption of prohibited drugs creates an illegal business in our hemisphere that generates some 151 billion dollars in drug retail alone.

This illegal activity has led to the rise of giant transnational criminal networks, which have expanded their activities to include, in addition to the production and sale of controlled substances, the illegal trafficking and sale of arms, piracy and smuggling, human trafficking, the control and exploitation of prostitution, theft, illegal mining, kidnapping and extortion, and the smuggling of migrants and organs, among other criminal activities.

In some of our countries, the activity of these criminals has resulted in massacres, attacks carried out by assassins, torture and deaths that have raised the death toll to hundreds of thousands of people.

Moreover, it has led to the corruption of public and private officials at various levels and caused damage to our economies and institutions that, in many cases, jeopardizes our democratic governance.

Although these are realities that affect each country differently, we are united by our concern over the problem. The relationship between drugs and violence is one of the main causes of fear amongst our citizens and has contributed to making security one of the most worrying issues for the citizens of the entire hemisphere.

This situation must be faced with greater realism and effectiveness if we want to move forward successfully. All of us who hold public responsibilities owe it to the millions of women and men, young and old, mothers and fathers, girls and boys who today feel threatened to find clear answers and effective public policies to confront this scourge.

The Heads of State and Government of the Americas, aware of this, moved forward in Cartagena, one year ago when they gave an explicit mandate to the Organization of American States, to “Analyze the results of the current policy (on drugs) in the Americas and explore new approaches to strengthen this struggle and to become more effective.”

The Report, "The Drug Problem in the Americas," which I now have the honor to present to the Leaders of the Hemisphere by way of his Excellency the President of Colombia, who was the Chair of the Summit of the Americas that commissioned it, is the result of that effort. In it, we have thoroughly examined the available and updated information about the size and characteristics of the consumption and the business of illicit drugs in our hemisphere, including their effects on the security of our citizens, on the health of our peoples, and on the quality of our institutions and their servants. To do so we have received valuable contributions from public servants, private specialists, academic experts and social and political leaders from the entire hemisphere that contributed with their opinions, their inputs in specific areas and, at all times, with their experience and goodwill.

We have tried, in this Report, not to silence or hide anything. To show the problem just as it is and how it manifests itself in different ways in our various countries and sub-regions. To show the volume of money that changes hands and who benefits from it. To show how it erodes our social organization and how it undermines the health of our people, the quality of our governments and even our democracy.

We called the first part of this Report the Analytical Report. In it we offer, in first place, a definition of the problem, an explanation of how we approached its analysis and an examination of the reasons that led society to worry about the consumption of certain substances and decide to put controls on them, due to the effects of drugs on human health.

Next we follow the entire process of drugs in the region, the part of the world in which all of its stages are present in a dominant way: cultivation, production, distribution and the final sale of controlled substances. In each stage we review the various forms this activity assumes, as well as its environmental impact and the reaction of the State, its implications and its limitations.

We also examined the consumption of the different drugs in our countries, their effects on social exclusion and the exercise of human rights, the possible forms of treatment and prevention practiced today and, again, the reaction of our States.

There are two aspects connected with the process of the production, trafficking and consumption of drugs that deserve special attention.

The first is the so-called “drug economy.” Our Report contains an examination of the profits generated in each stage of the process, concluding that, while all profit in the process, the greatest profits are produced in the final stage, the sale to consumers.

The second aspect is an examination of the various forms of criminal violence associated with the different stages in the value chain of the illegal drug economy, including that which takes place in during the consumption of these substances.

On this point, we carefully considered the possible reasons why this violence takes on greater intensity and virulence in some countries and, in particular, why the greatest violence is not generated where the greatest profit is generated. The most lethal criminality does not coincide with the greatest profit-making. Probably, then, there are other factors, such as greater or lesser institutional strength in our countries and the greater impunity enjoyed by criminals, which promotes the violence linked to drugs.

Finally, we analyze the legal and regulatory alternatives to address the problem, in particular their origins and characteristics, current trends in decriminalization, reduction of penalties and legalization, the potential costs and benefits of these alternatives and the review of other legal alternatives.

The Analytical Report provides, we hope a succinct summary of the current reality of the Drug Problem. The Report on Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas 2013-2025 is an examination of the various paths that the phenomenon could take in the coming years.

We are aware that there is not just one possible future but many alternative or combined futures; because the complexity of the drug problem gives rise to different visions or points of view, which are expressed in many debates. And, on that basis, various policy options can be adopted with very different consequences.

Starting from that premise, a group of people, specialists and participants who have dealt with the drug problem from very different angles, have set forth four possibilities on what the “drug problem” in the Americas could become in the future.

None of them represents what will happen or what we want to happen, but all of them could come to pass if certain events take place and if some political decisions are taken. To understand these possibilities, to analyze their causes and effects, and to draw conclusions about them, is a task that we consider not just useful but necessary for our individual and collective reflections on the problem.

Three of the four scenarios discussed - "Together", "Pathways" and "Resilience" – describe alternative futures depending on the relative weight placed on institutional strengthening, experimentation with legal changes or the ability to react to the problem from the community. The fourth, "Disruption," warns of what might happen if we fail in the short term to arrive at a shared vision that allows us to unite our efforts to address the problem, while at the same time respecting our diversity.

From each of these scenarios a variety of collective and multilateral opportunities and challenges emerge that should be leading factors in the subsequent discussion. With drugs, as with any complex social problem, there is a wide range of motivations and beliefs that influence the social fabric. That's why we believe that the scenarios are a good starting point for our leaders and ultimately, our people, to arrive at collective and sustainable policies in the midst of diversity.

President Santos:

As I have said, by mandating us to prepare this report, the Heads of State of our hemisphere gave us a great responsibility. At the same time, they prescribed very precise limits for our response to it. That is why we lay out facts that will assist in decision-making, but do not propose solutions. That it is up to our leaders, who will have a firm basis for their deliberations in future debates.

However, we have allowed ourselves to draw some general conclusions, found at the end of the Analytical Report:

First, although the drug problem in the Americas is expressed in a single process, it allows for different treatments in each of its phases and in the countries in which they take place.

The health problems associated with substance abuse are certainly present in all our countries, as there is evidence of drug use in all of them. However, although the increase in consumption in South America is alarming, the use of drugs is still greater in the countries in the north of North America, which, together with Europe, continues to be the main destination for drug trafficking from our hemisphere.

By contrast, the impact on the economy, social relations, security and democratic governance is greater in the countries where cultivation, production and transit take place, located in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Second, while some countries have greater resources and stronger institutions to better address damages related to the illicit market and illegal drug use, others suffer a clear institutional weakness that leads to a practical inability to address the problem.

The links between drugs and violence in our countries are complex, with greater impact on those countries in which the State is not able to deliver effective responses.

Those countries in which criminal activity reaches more intense levels of violence and cruelty are also the countries where the geographical reach of institutions tends to be limited, which suffer from a lack of coordination and institutional articulation, limited financial and human resources, and a lack of information needed to guide the definition and implementation of security policies.

Moreover, there exists, a situation of widespread impunity, which explains the existence of an equally widespread culture of lack of respect for the State. In the context of this lack of respect for the State, a vicious circle is created in which the community decides not to use the institutions (crimes are not reported, disputes are resolved privately, people take justice into their own hands) because the police do not chase offenders, courts do not deliver justice, and prisons do not rehabilitate and often serve as a haven for criminals who continue to operate as such from behind bars.

We recognize that there are probably other conditions that help explain the rule of crime and violence in some of our countries. That our individual histories as nations, our cultures and idiosyncrasies and especially the situations of poverty and social inequality that characterize some countries, are also present, in a decisive way, in explaining this phenomenon. However, it seems equally undeniable that at the core of any solution there will always be a need for formal institutions that effectively ensure public security and truly ensure the welfare and prosperity of all.

Third, drug consumption requires a public health approach in all of our countries, with more resources and more programs in order to succeed.

National, international and hemispheric policies on drugs have gradually adopted the view of dependence as a chronic, relapsing disease, which requires a health-oriented approach that integrates a wide range of policies. These include promoting healthy lifestyles, protecting users with measures to limit the availability of psychoactive substances, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration.

Drug treatment should be present at all levels of general and specialized care in the health system, with special emphasis on early detection and timely intervention at the primary care level. In our report we show that there is a significant gap between the vision of public health and care services for problems of psychoactive substance consumption in many of our countries.

Fourth, addressing the drug problem requires a multi-pronged approach, with great flexibility, with an understanding of different realities and, above all, the belief that, to be successful, we must maintain unity in diversity.

Greater flexibility could certainly lead to acceptance of the possibility of changes in national legislation or to promoting changes in international law. From there, if one accepts the fundamental notion that drug use is not a criminal act, then users should not be subject to punishment, but to care and rehabilitation.

Also, it is important to recognize that there is an ongoing debate about the legalization or de-penalization of marijuana with initiatives underway in some of our countries, as well as a disposition to deal with the issue that does not exist with respect to other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, where the proposals for legalization or de-penalization are largely rejected.

Naturally none of these changes should put in doubt the advances made thus far in terms of collective action on drugs in our hemisphere, but rather should build, on this basis, more realistic policies, which consider the needs of the individual, and also the needs of the whole.

In that balance between the individual and the collective, between national sovereignty and multilateral action, we have based our coexistence and all the associative structures that we have created in the course of our histories as nations that are independent but united and supportive in the international arena.

President Santos, officials, distinguished guests.

With this, the OAS General Secretariat has responded to the explicit mandate that the Sixth Summit of the Americas conferred upon us.

By delivering this Report today, through you, we are encouraged by the sincere aspiration, which I now have the privilege of presenting to the entire hemisphere, that it is not a conclusion but only the beginning of a long awaited discussion.

Thank you.