International Drug Policy Unit

The International Drug Policy Unit (IDPU) is now closed.



From September 2017 to September 2020, The International Drug Policy Unit (IDPU) was a cross-regional and multidisciplinary project, based at the US Centre which studied international drug policy.

This page archives IDPU's reports and events.

International Drug Policy Unit reports

Saving Lives in the time of COVID-19 [PDF]
Case Study of Harm Reduction, Homelessness and Drug Use in Dublin, Ireland
July 2020

Dublin has outperformed even best-case scenarios for COVID-19 mortality among homeless and drug using populations. The experience provides important lessons for policy discussions on the pandemic, as well as broader lessons about pragmatic responses to these key client groups irrespective of COVID-19. The purpose of this policy briefing, co-authored by Austin O’Carroll, Tony Duffin and John Collins, is to outline and explore the initiatives taken in the Irish capital and to consider the future policy implications.

Denying Revenue or Wasting Money? [PDF]
Assessing the impact of the air campaign against 'drug labs' in Afghanistan
April 2019

Following on from his 2018 report into the United States Forces in Afghanistan’s aerial bombings of Taliban heroin labs, David Mansfield conducts a forensic assessment of this campaign to determine whether it fulfilled its primary objective of denying revenue to the insurgency. Using video analysis, high-resolution imagery and in-depth interviews, Mansfield concludes that the campaign had a negligible effect on the Taliban’s finances, exacted little toll on drug trafficking organisations, and served to alienate the rural population.

The Colour of Injustice [PDF] 
‘Race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales
October 2018

This report by StopWatch, Release, and LSE International Drug Policy Unit documents the disproportionate impact that drug law enforcement continues to have on black and minority ethnic communities in England and Wales.

Not Criminals [PDF] 
Underpinning a health-led approach to drug use
October 2018

This report by the Ana Liffey Drug Project and LSE International Drug Policy Unit calls for the decriminalisation of people who use drugs in Ireland. It highlights how treating possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence is counterproductive in that it both fails to discourage drug use and acts as a barrier to seeking help and reintegration for those people who are using drugs.

Bombing Heroin Labs in Afghanistan [PDF] 
The Latest Act in the Theatre of Counternarcotics
January 2018

In November of 2017, the US initiated a bombing campaign against purported opium processing 'labs' in Afghanistan; United States Forces Afghanistan claimed that these strikes eliminated nearly $80 million of drug money from the Taliban. In this report David Mansfield draws on high resolution imagery and field research conducted after the first air strikes to question the efficacy of this new campaign and the logic that underpins it. He finds that contrary to official estimates, the campaign has had a negligible effect on the drugs trade and Taliban financing.

After the Drug Wars [PDF]
February 2016

In this report the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy sets out a framework for the future of international drug policy following the end of the 'War on Drugs' based on the Sustainable Development Goals. For more information click here.

Ending the Drug Wars [PDF] [ES]
May 2014

In this report the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy argue that it is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis. For more information click here.

Governing the Global Drug Wars [PDF] / [ES]
October 2012

Since 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed. This special report looks at how this drug control system arose, why it has proven so durable in the face of failure, and whether there is hope for reform. For more information click here

Past IDPU events

COVID-19 and Illicit Markets - Hosted by LSE's public event series - COVID-19: The Policy Response
Tuesday, 02 June 2020

The potential impact of COVID-19 on economic markets is well known and widely discussed. But what about the markets we know less about, namely illicit markets? Drug markets, policymakers and people who use drugs are facing an unprecedented situation. In this discussion we heard on-the-ground narratives and broader policy perspectives about how we might best respond.

Ending the US Overdose Crisis: lessons from other times and places – co-hosted with LSE's US Centre
Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Some of the world’s leading experts on public health and drug policy came together to discuss how the US can learn the lessons of past policy failures and policies that provide greater hope to help end the overdose crisis.

The Colour of Injustice: 'race', drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales co-hosted with the Department of Social Policy
Monday, 20 May 2019

This event brings together stakeholders and experts from various sectors to discuss racial disparities in policing and drug law enforcement as well as a range of possible policy solutions.

Drug Wars and Strongman Politics – hosted by LSE Festival: New World (Dis)Orders
Thursday, 28 February 2019

As part of LSE Festival 2019 this public lecture will explore the wider issue of the disorder caused by ‘strongman’ politics, and the creative social responses to it. 

Understanding Recent Developments in North American Cannabis Policy – co-hosted with LSE's US Centre
Monday, 8 October 2018

Why has cannabis policy changed so radically in the USA and Canada in such a short period of time? Join us to understand the recent evolution of cannabis policy in North America. 

Rethinking the Origins of the Drug War in Mexico – co-hosted with LSE's US Centre
23 February 2018

This public lecture re-evaluated the history of the drug war in Mexico by bringing together two eminent historians to examine the crucial developments of Mexican drug policy and its discourse on drugs over the past 100 years.

New Approaches to Drugs Consumption Policies in Latin America – co-hosted with Canning House 
24 April 2018

This event examined new research around the efficacy of drug consumption policies from around the world and in Latin America in order to provide an overview of the evidence based policy toolkit available to policymakers as they examine the next steps for drug policies in the Americas.

Drugs and (dis)order: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war 
23 March 2018

This was the launch event for new Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project aimed at establishing a new approach to drug policy in three of the world’s largest drug-producing countries – Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar.

Militarisation and the "War on Crime" 
7 November 2017

The deployment of armies, navies, military assets and militarised approaches can send a powerful message, but have produced mixed results.  This debate, co hosted between the LSE US Centre's International Drug Policy Unit and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime discussed four different areas of criminality – wildlife crime, piracy, human smuggling and drug trafficking – to see how effective a militarised response can really be, and what might be lost as collateral damage.

Revolutions in the Afghan Desert 
24 February 2017

The story of how vast areas of desert in Afghanistan have been transformed into farming land through the use of revolutionary new technologies in the poppy and opium trade. This event was part of an exhibition on the topic, and included insight from satellite imagery.

Drug Policies Beyond the 'War on Drugs'? 
15 February 2017

As countries examine new ways of managing drugs beyond the failed 'war on drugs' model, this event explored the future of drug policy and the role of LSE research in driving government policies around the world.


After the Drug Wars report launch
15 February 2016

In this event, members of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy set out a new framework for drug control based on the Sustainable Development Goals.

History of the International Drug Policy Unit

In 2012, LSE released the Governing the Global Drug Wars report. It represented a far reaching examination of the historical evolution of the international drug control system and discussed potential options for reform.

Following this report, the Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy was created to produce a thorough and independent economic analysis of the current international drug control strategy.

The Expert Group's ground-breaking study, Ending the Drug Wars, was published in 2014. This hugely influential report was named one of the top ten policy studies by a think-tank worldwide.

The IDPU expanded, working with governments around the world and hosting Policy Planning Workshops to research and examine the economic and social scientific evidence on global drug policy.

In 2016, the Expert Group published After the Drug Wars, ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The report was presented before its release to the Colombian government at a packed event in Bogota and at an UN meeting in Vienna.

Since then, IDPU has appointed its first Visiting Fellows and Visiting Senior Fellow, held the first Innovation Lab in Rome, and co-hosted 2016 Nobel Peace Prize winner Colombian President Santos at LSE.

In September 2017, the International Drugs Policy Project became the International Drugs Policy Unit, and transferred to the LSE's United States Centre.

In the summer of 2020, the decision was taken to discontinue the International Drug Policy Unit. The unit closed on 30 September 2020.

Journal of Illicit Economies and Development

The Journal of Illicit Economies and Development (JIED) is an initiative of the International Drug Policy Unit, published by LSE Press. It is a peer-reviewed, open access, electronic journal publishing research and policy commentary on the complex relationship between illicit markets and development. JIED journal is cross-disciplinary and engages with academics, practitioners, and decision makers in facilitating for interventions and development planning that incorporates an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of illicit markets. 

Visit the JIED website for more information.

The International Drug Policy Unit was supported by 
Open Society Foundations, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (giz) and LSE Knowledge Exchange and Impact. 

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