By Dan Werb for OSF. As we approach the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), the voices clamoring for drug policy reform are getting louder. But within the narrow parameters of the UN system, what does reform really mean? After all, when it comes to drug policy, one of the main tasks of the UN is to ensure compliance with international treaties related to drug use, and to provide a framework for evaluation so that countries can assess the impact their policies are making on drug use and supply.

So is all the anticipation over UNGASS misplaced, given the UN’s emphasis on evaluation rather than reform? Not exactly. It has become clear that the way countries evaluate their drug policies dictates the kinds of outcomes that governments are seeking to highlight. Simply put, reform begins with taking a hard look at what governments are prioritizing in their drug policy evaluations.

For example, are they more interested in the amount of illegal drugs that law enforcement officers seize annually, or on the proportion of their citizens with some kind of substance use disorder? Are they more interested in determining the price of illegal drugs, or in the number of people who inject drugs that are infected with HIV or hepatitis C?

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