Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

How far has CICAD come?


Have We Made Any Progress in Dealing With Drugs?

Anna McG. Chisman

When the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) was founded in November 1986, very few countries had national drug commissions or national drug strategies. Almost no-one had specialized training or interest in addictions, and there was no scientific understanding of the nature of drug dependence. Only a handful of member states had legislation on drug control, despite having signed and ratified the UN drug conventions. Money laundering techniques used by the drug cartels were barely understood. As head of CICAD’s drug demand reduction program (1987-2010), I had no counterpart in most member states.

By contrast, today, almost every member state has a national drug commission and a national drug strategy. Neuroscience has given us a much clearer understanding of drug dependence as a disease of the brain. Many thousands of police and customs officers, statisticians, drug treatment counselors, medical staff, university professors, and prevention experts have received specialized training to address the problem.

The world drug problem has not been solved, but the CICAD Commission has made a significant contribution by promoting cooperation among the countries of the Western Hemisphere on a transnational problem that requires coordinated transnational responses. Over the last quarter century, recriminations about which country or countries were “responsible” for the flood of cocaine have been replaced in the CICAD Commission by a shared understanding of a shared problem.

 CICAD’s Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), a peer-to-peer assessment of member states’ performance and shortcomings in drug control, has helped countries understand, in great detail, the different challenges they each face in addressing the world drug problem.

 The Western Hemisphere’s new drug strategy, approved in 2010, represents a major policy shift for governments. It begins with a strong statement about respect for human rights in all aspects of drug control. The strategy goes on to say that drug addiction is a public health problem, and that alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders are a promising solution to the revolving door of prison. And it clearly says that all drug control programs must be based on science and evidence and should no longer rely on the hit-or-miss approaches that characterized many efforts in the past.

 CICAD has been fortunate over the last 25 years to have worked with OAS member governments, non-governmental organizations, and other international organizations to develop a common agenda. The challenges ahead will require two major efforts on the part of governments: first, significantly greater outreach to the general public to help parents, teachers, health care workers, and community leaders understand how the world drug problem affects them, their children, and their communities; and second, increased use by national drug commissions of existing social services, such as HIV/AIDS programs, housing, job training, literacy programs, and human rights campaigns, to broaden the reach of drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.

Note: A version of this article appeared in Americas magazine in May 2011.

updated on 5/2/2012 11:53:11 AM