A Century of International Drug Control

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The international drug control system is one of the oldest consensus-based multilateral systems in existence. While the use of psychoactive substances itself extends back many centuries, today’s international drug control system is rooted in efforts made a century ago to address the largest substance abuse problem the world has ever faced: the Chinese opium epidemic. The present volume is not a diplomatic history, it aims only to present the basic development of the modern drug control system: why and how it arose, how it impacted drug production and consumption and its legacy for present and future international drug control efforts.



Achievements and unintended consequences of the international drug control system

Despite many twists and turns, the history of international drug control elaborated above tells a relatively simple story. At the turn of the century, the world faced unregulated transnational markets in highly addictive substances. Free trade in drugs resulted in the greatest drug problem the world has ever confronted: the Chinese opium epidemic. Unilateral efforts to address this problem failed, and it was not until international pressure brought the drug producing nations to the negotiating table that a solution was found. By mid century, the licit trade in narcotics had been brought under control, a remarkable achievement given that many national economies had been as dependent on opium as the addicts themselves. Illicit markets were an unintended consequence of international controls, and these have proven extremely problematic.


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