Dr. Angela Me

Dr. Angela Me

Chief, Research and Analysis Branch, UNODC,Vienna, Austria

Angela Me is the Chief of the Research Branch at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) where she oversees global, regional and national research in the areas of drugs and crime. She is responsible for publications which are the global reference point of information in the areas of drugs and crime such as the World Drug Report, the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, the Global Study on Homicide and the Afghanistan Opium Survey. Ms. Me has 20 years of experience in the United Nations having worked for the United Nations Statistics Division, the United Nations Commission for Europe and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She has authored, contributed and supervised the production of a large number of publications ranging from analytical reports, international statistical standards, discussion papers, and inter-governmental documents in the areas of drugs, crime, population, gender, disability, and migration. She has served in different advisory committees including the Scientific Committee of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights. As an Italian national, Ms. Me holds a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Padua in Italy.

Drugs and sustainable development

Prevention Conference

Gothenburg, November 15-16

From illicit cultivation and production to trafficking and use, the world drug problem, with all its ramifications, is intertwined with a vast array of social, economic, environmental, and governance issues. This exerts great pressure on development efforts, which in turn have an influence on the drug problem.

From the angle of social development, the failure to accept or understand that drug dependence is a health condition feeds the cycle of marginalization that often affects people with drug use disorders, making their recovery and social integration more challenging. Furthermore, stigmatizing attitudes towards people who use drugs, which may extend to staff in health-care services, can affect the delivery of effective treatment to those who most need it.

Opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis together accounted for almost 12 million life years lost due to premature death or disability in 2013, of which more than 8 million were linked to opioid use disorders. One of the risk factors for the negative health impact of drugs stems from their mode of administration. Injecting drug use, in particular, carries a much greater risk of overdose and infection, including the transmission of blood-borne viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis C, than does smoking, swallowing, snorting or inhaling drugs.


The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the new paradigm of the international community to guide development efforts. Among its targets, Sustainable Development Goal 3 explicitly includes strengthening “the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse”. Drug policies based on scientific evidence can, through measures such as prevention and treatment, mitigate the negative health impact of drug use.

Drug use undermines the aspect of sustainable development related to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. There are marked differences between male and female drug users in terms of preferred drugs and drug-related vulnerabilities. Coupled with the fact that users of several drug types are predominantly male, this leads to a danger that the entire continuum of care may fail to cater adequately for the needs of female drug users, who also have a lack of access to such services.

Women affected by drug dependence and HIV are more vulnerable and more stigmatized than men. They suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders to a greater extent than men, and they are more likely to have been victims of violence and abuse. Women often also bear a heavy burden of violence and deprivation associated with the drug dependence of family members, hindering the achievement of the sustainable development target of eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls. Female offenders and prisoners, especially those with drug use disorders, face particular hardship as, in many instances, criminal justice systems are not yet equipped for the special needs of women.

Drug use often affects people during their most productive years. When youth become trapped in a cycle of drug use, and even in the drug trade itself, as opposed to being engaged in legitimate employment and educational opportunities, distinct barriers are effectively raised to the development of individuals and communities.

The drug problem also affect the environment, it contributes to deforestation when it results in the clearing of woodland. Illicit crop cultivation frequently takes place in biodiversity hotspots hosting a large number of species with a limited habitat, some of which are protected areas. It tends to occur close to the agricultural frontier, which demarcates the border between pristine forest and developed areas, and can result in the clearing of forests.

Different stages of the drug problem result in different manifestations of violence. Drug use may lead to violence related to the psychoactive effects of drugs, as well as to crime committed in order to obtain funds for purchasing drugs. The intensity of drug-related violence is greatest, however, when associated with drug trafficking (systemic violence), as the example of Latin America shows. The traumatic effects of violence can also increase vulnerability to drug use. Yet drug trafficking and production do not necessarily produce violence, as illustrated by the low levels of homicide in transit countries affected by the opiate trafficking routes in Asia. Characteristics of the market and drug trafficking organizations may explain variations: market competition can generate violence in illicit markets, while differences in the internal structure of trafficking networks, which may be characterized by varying degrees of cohesiveness and hierarchy, can also play a role.

The profits associated with the drug trade are a key motivation for non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations, to engage in or facilitate drug trafficking. In a number of countries, resources generated in illicit markets such as drug markets have played a role in complicating and extending armed conflicts, often increasing their overall lethality. In general, the drug trade flourishes where State presence is weak, where the rule of law is unevenly applied and where opportunities for corruption exist. At the same time, the wealth and power of drug trafficking organizations provide them with resources to buy protection from law enforcement agents, from politicians and the business sector, thereby reinforcing corruption. Profit is generated across the entire chain of drug production and distribution, but it is at the final stage that it tends to be highest.

Prevention, early intervention treatment, care, recovery, rehabilitation and social integration measures, and the entire continuum of care for people who use drugs, when based on scientific evidence, reduce drug use and thus its impact on public health, which is one of the most important components of the well-being of society. Some of the above measures have also been shown to decrease a range of other risky behaviours such as aggressiveness and truancy.  The benefits affect both people who use drugs themselves and society in general, and such efforts have proved effective in preventing, for example, HIV and viral hepatitis.

Drug demand reduction interventions are effective when they rely on evidence-based measures, including those aimed at minimizing the adverse public health and social consequences of drug use, such as appropriate needle and syringe programmes, opiate substitution therapy, antiretroviral therapy and other relevant interventions that prevent the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases associated with drug use. Compulsory confinement in drug treatment centres, on the other hand, often worsens the already problematic lives of people who use drugs and people with drug dependence, particularly the youngest and most vulnerable.