Reducing the supply of drugs is together with demand reduction the key approach in reducing the harm done by drugs in society.
Supply reduction has many facets. Gone is the simple notion that reducing supply is limited to eradicating harvests, arresting traffickers and dealers. A far more subtle picture emerges of what is required to reduce the supply of drugs. Supply reduction requires a political, economical and societal response. Issues like security, and social and economic development must be prominent.
Producer communities need to be integrated and receiving greater opportunities as well as a the support of the rule of law. Alternative development / lieveliehood is therefore the most precise term for what is basically a broad development strategy to secure long term reductions in supply.
Global and local neighbourhoods
Availability depends on the entire supply chain from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the local dealer meeting the buyer. Supply reduction is therefore both about tackling the Afghan poppy fields, the international trafficking and the local dealer.
In consumer countries like in Europe the public is not surprisingly more worried about the local dealer than with the Afghan farmer, not least because local drug market is related to other crimes and to violence.
Local supply reduction interventions such as law enforcment should be part of wider prevention strategies such as education, community based prevention, health promotion.
It's basically about prevention
The use and possession of drugs are illegal because the use of individuals is part of the wider spread of drug, the use, patterns of use and its sales. Users are therefore not only passive consumers but contributing to the spread of drugs by selling it to finance their own consumption and/or by social relations to friends and family.
In this perspective treatment is prevention. It reduces the number of users which again will slow down the spread of drug use in society, and it reduces demand.
There is a salient similarity between the situation between farmers and users. In both cases drug use and production is associated with a number of harmful lifestyles, missed opportunities and crime. Both needs to stop their harmful ways but both equally needs help to achieve that. Farmers need alternative liveliehoods and users need treatment and rehabilitation. For the latter to succeed their addiction must be confronted and a drug free life must be supported.
Users must be diverted away from the drugs by a mixed response where administrative and penal sanctions are only one of many actions available. Zero tolerance is a precondition since it provides an opportunity to induce a change in behavior. But drug use can not be discouraged by the application of sanctions alone.
In this perspective supply and demand redution are both about prevention. The supply and availability of drugs is one of several risk factors surrounding us together with other factors such as social problems, cultural factors, lack of alternative lifestyles etc. The ban on drugs and its enforcement is concordingly one of several protective factors.
A social dimension
Both use and cultivation has one more thing in common, the importance of the social dimension. In most cases farmers of illicit crops live below the poverty level. Many of these communities are already living in conflict and exclusion from broader political, technologica, economic developments. Drug production only helps to entrench this cycle of marginalisation.
Eradication and law enforcement will play important part of a broad strategy but emphasis today is more on how to ensure broader changes in society to make supply reduction happen by choice rather than force.
In a society where drugs are produced there are key societal, economic and political factors that needs to be targeted and not only the single act of production and manufacture. This is in particular true in areas when crops are sawn on an annual basis like opium poppy and cannabis.
Demand and supply intertwined
A fundamental aspect of the drug market is that supply is responding to demand and vise versa, according to basic economic theory, much as for any other consumer goods. Demand reduction strategies will therefore contribute to reducing supply. Reduced supply will on the other hand inrease prices and limit availability, and consequently cause reduction in consumption. Supply and demand reduction should therefore be seen as part of a whole and not in isolation.
Countries and populations where drugs are manufactured and/or produced and cultiaved are also major consumers. Consumption is generally high along trafficking routes too. Local consumption is therefore becoming an additional driver for local production, as well as adding another burden to an already poor and marginalised community.
Effective supply reduction strategies should therefore inlcude prevention of drug use and treatment of drug dependence.
Development and integration
The producing countries of coca and illicit opium make good examples of the need for broad and long term strategies. Not least do they illustrate how drug production and consumption is part of major eonomic, political and societal problems.
supply reduction/security/sustainable livelihood interventions
The third reflection is that it is no coincidence that illicit drugs are grown in parts of Afghanistan and Colombia largely uncontrolled by the central government. Security is there fore essential in order for any intervention too succeed. Consequently, the progress that has been made in these two and other countries in terms of reducing production and shifting production towards other crops is largely due to improvements of security and an increased presence of government.
The map of cultivation and presence of insurgency in Afghanistan overlaps to a very high degree. The map seen below shows the overlap of opium cultivation with the security situation in provinces of Afghanistan. In provinces with relatively low risk security cultivation is very low or nil (Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009).
The fourth reflection is the general tendency that overal economic, political and societal stability is important element. A key consept is integration. Marginalised groups, communities and populations involved in conflicts are more prone to engage in criminal activity such as production and trafficking og drugs
Typical examples are today the regions of the Andes where terrorist groups like the FARC (Colombia) and Shining Path (Peru) thrived on local coca production. Similar tendency can be seen historically in South East Asia. Another
The third foundamental reflection is supply reduction/security/sustainable livelihood interventions.
Production in Europe
Whereas producing countires have generally high levels of drug use, consumption countries like Europe have also high levels of production of certain illicit drugs, first and foremost cannabis and synthetic drugs.