International Drug Policy

Drawing on experience, Switzerland belongs to the countries that are promoting approaches to public health, and that place the human dimension firmly at the centre of national and international drug policies.

Speech CND Director-General Anne Lévy FOPH
Speech by Anne Lévy, Director-General of the Federal Office of Public Health, at the high-level meeting of the 67th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna (Austria), 15 March 2023

The global drug problem

One person in 17 worldwide uses illegal drugs – that is a total of 296 million people (UNODC 2023), 39,5 million of whom have drug-related health problems. The prevalence of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis is significantly greater in this population. The drugs most widely used throughout the world are cannabis and amphetamines. Opioids are consumed less commonly but remain the leading cause of deaths in fatal overdoses. Upstream production and supply are controlled by an illegal, Mafia-dominated industry.

International institutional architecture

The transnational and criminal nature of illegal drugs calls for concerted international action. Several institutions are hosting and supporting this dialogue, including :

  • the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, which addresses the global drug issue within the wider context of other security and public health issues;
  • the Commission on Narcotic Drugs CND, the central drug policy-making body within the United Nations system for controlling drugs;
  • the World Health Organization WHO, which addresses the global health aspects of the drug problem;
  • the Pompidou Group, which is integrated into the Council of Europe and participates in the development of drug policies in its member states.

The diverse responses to the drug problem

The States, which are the players within these institutions, are currently struggling to reach a consensus on how to respond to illegal drugs. States policies are situated on a continuous line ranging from those that give priority to abstinence, prohibition and repression to those that view the drug problem primarily as a public health issue, and are concerned about the human rights of persons using drugs.

A growing number of countries with Switzerland as a pioneer among them, have recognised that this historical model is not working, and have been turning away from it. In fact, this latter approach encourages illegal drug activities, creating health problems and social exclusion that do more harm than the drugs themselves. Despite these consequences, some States are maintaining their repressive approach and levying severe penalties, including death penalty for drug-related crimes.

Switzerland’s approach to drug policy

Switzerland is a pioneer in the field of policies focusing on public health and human rights, and has promoted them internationally since the early 1990s. Political action based on four pillars (prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement) has proven to be effective, resulting in the closure of open drug scenes and a reduction in the prevalence of HIV among users. On this basis, Switzerland, together with other countries and NGOs, advocates its approach within the international institutions. Specifically, it pursues the following:

  • By targeted interventions and promotion of its position within the international institutions, the UN and the Council of Europe, namely within the Pompidou Group, and encouraging the collaboration between these and other organisations involved, such as UNAIDS. For example, during the 2024 Commission on narcotic drugs (CND), Switzerland formally reiterated its commitment to working towards a coherent addictions policy based on health and human rights and incorporating aspects of development policy. On this occasion, Switzerland also undertook to strengthen the dialogue on progressive and comprehensive approaches between the competent United Nations bodies in Vienna, Geneva and New York, while involving relevant stakeholders, in particular civil society. The session ended with the adoption of a resolution on the prevention of and response to drug overdoses. This resolution can be described as historic, as it explicitly recognises the importance of harm reduction for the first time within the framework of the CND. Switzerland has played a pioneering role in this field for over 30 years.
  • By welcoming foreign delegations to Switzerland in order to enable them to find out how the Swiss national four-pillar policy is implemented on the ground.

Further information

Addiction & health

Addictions and dependencies pose a risk to individuals and society at large. That’s why we promote people’s health literacy. Find out here about the various addictions and addiction prevention, regulation, damage limitation, counselling and therapies.

Last modification 25.03.2024

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