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17 Reasons Why Drugs Are A Sustainability Issue

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Drugs are a menace to society, people, the planet and profit.

17 reasons why drugs are a sustainability issue illustrasion
Problematic narcotics by Meghna Gupta

With everyone's attention focused on the new popular series Euphoria, it may appear that we know a lot about drugs and addiction, but there's a lot more to learn about drugs as a sustainability issue. Let's take a look at the 17 reasons why drugs are a sustainable issue.

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Poverty can lead to drug abuse, but drug abuse can lead to poverty as well.

Many people from the middle and higher classes have fallen into poverty as a result of their drug addiction. Middle-class people might also fall into addiction-related poverty by selling assets or withdrawing funds from their retirement accounts to buy drugs or alcohol.

Untreated addiction weakens judgement and critical thinking skills, causing someone who is ordinarily financially responsible to spend decades of savings in a short period. Once in poverty, they endure the same problems as other poor people and are frequently unable to leave.

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Illicit crop cultivation (coca bush, opium poppy or cannabis) has an impact on food security and productivity in affected communities because land that could have been used for agriculture is instead used to cultivate illicit crops, trapping poor farmers in a cycle where they must rely on illicit crop cultivation to meet their basic food and financial needs.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

People who use drugs are criminalised, and the social stigma associated with drug use creates a significant barrier to medical care and other support services, increasing the risk of infectious diseases like HIV, TB, and hepatitis, as well as health conditions unrelated to drug use.

Prohibitionist drug policies have a significant influence on drug treatment and proven public health services, such as needle and syringe exchange programmes, for individuals who use drugs. Prohibition also perpetuates social stigma and prejudice against drug users, who are frequently denied medical care as a result of their drug usage.

Women who use drugs confront a lot of stigmas, especially pregnant women, who are frequently denied prenatal treatment and opioid substitution therapy, jeopardising their lives and the lives of their babies.

State spending on narcotic substance misuse therapy is likewise limited due to social stigma.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusively and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

Opium, coca, and cannabis are grown in some of the world's most remote locations, where the government's presence is usually restricted to law enforcement interventions to destroy illicit crops and arrest those who cultivate them.

Inequality and unequal access to land tenure are also prevalent in many of these places.

In the Kokang Special Region of Myanmar, law enforcement measures and opium prohibitions resulted in a 50% decline in school enrollment and the closure of two-thirds of pharmacies and medical facilities in 2002-2003.

And because gender inequities obstruct women's access to school and jobs, they are particularly vulnerable to participation in the illegal drug trade. Disregarding their fragility, along with ongoing human rights violations, necessarily jeopardises the fulfilment of SDG 5, as well as SDGs 1, 4, and 8.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Women in prison for drug offences are the fastest-growing prison population in the world. This is worsened by mandatory punishment, which disregards the role and motive of women in drug-related offences. The over-incarceration of women for drug offences not only aggravates their inequality and disempowerment but also aggravates the poverty and vulnerability of their entire families and communities, as the majority of women imprisoned around the world are mothers and/or the primary caregivers of dependent children.

The loss of livelihoods as a result of forced crop eradication campaigns disproportionately affects women's livelihoods in agricultural regions, in a setting where gender inequality already results in unequal access to land, education, and employment.

In some locations, forced crop clearance has also been linked to an increase in female sex labour and women and children trafficking.

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

In populated places, illicit drug residues have become common surface water pollutants.

These drugs can be eliminated in urine and faeces as the parent compound and/or metabolites after intake.

Several commonly used medications are excreted unaltered or as active metabolites in large percentages after use and are released into home wastewaters regularly.

Several chemicals can so reach STPs in significant quantities and, if not degraded, be discharged into surface water.

The majority of these residues still have powerful pharmacological activity, and their presence in the aquatic environment could have serious health repercussions. These dangers to human health and the environment cannot be ruled out, even if ambient concentrations are modest.

Morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDA, and ecstasy all have potent effects, and their presence in surface waters as complex mixtures—along with residues from a variety of medicinal drugs—could result in unanticipated pharmacological interactions, posing a risk to humans and marine creatures.

GOAL 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

The marijuana industry is one of the most energy-intensive in the world, with many grow facilities requiring 24-hour indoor lighting setups, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.

80% of cannabis is grown inside the United States, with sophisticated lighting and environmental controls aimed at maximising the plant's productivity. It's a setup that can use up to 2,000 watts per square metre of electricity, which is 40 times more than what leafy greens like lettuce require when grown inside.

With this degree of increasing electrical consumption, two urgent problems arise grid vulnerability and GHG emissions. The grid in the United States has long been vulnerable to blackouts induced by natural disasters and ageing equipment. Utilities have been struggling to keep up with the demand for renewable energy and smart grid technology in recent years. A surge in demand from data centres, electric vehicles, and the pot industry is putting pressure on this already stressed, fossil-fuel-dependent energy distribution system.

Furthermore, due to the use of fossil fuels for energy generation, GHG emissions contribute considerably to climate change and global warming. The majority of electricity in the United States still originates from fossil fuels, and the energy distribution system will continue to generate huge levels of GHG until renewable energy becomes the primary energy source.

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

While there is evidence that illicit drug sales can promote economic development in the short term, the debate remains as to whether this leads to long-term development. Evidence suggests that countries, where illicit drugs are manufactured, have experienced a drop in economic growth.

Thailand, for example, was the first country in the area to significantly reduce illicit opium production. As illicit opium production declined in Thailand in the 1980s, the country's GDP growth rate outpaced that of its neighbours, and Thailand is now one of the region's most developed countries.

Of course, there is no evidence that increasing illicit drug production is always accompanied by a drop in overall economic activity. Illicit drugs are just one of many variables that influence economic growth.

GOAL 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Money obtained from unlawful activities such as the sale of illegal narcotics is often referred to as the "underground economy." It's difficult to estimate the exact amount of money that passes through the underground economy because of its secrecy.

The precision of major economic metrics is distorted because transactions in the underground economy are not disclosed. The gross domestic product (GDP) of a country is computed by adding up the following four components: Personal expenditures, Spending by businesses, Spending by the government, and exports minus imports.

None of these components keeps track of transactions that take place in the shadow economy. This is significant because government policies are based on these data, whether they are correct or not, which in turn may affect sustainable industrialization.

GOAL 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Drug enforcement targets ethnic minorities disproportionately, tarnishing the legal system and undermining SDG 10. In the United Kingdom, black individuals are six times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, even though black people use drugs at a lower rate than white people. In addition, black individuals face worse penalties for drug possession than white people, with 78% of black persons prosecuted for cocaine possession compared to 44% of white people.

GOAL 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Drug use occurs in people of all ages, social groups, and genders. Repressive drug regulations and a lack of access to health and social services, on the other hand, disproportionately afflict the poorest and most marginalised members of society. People who use drugs and are homeless, as well as those who engage in other "morally reproved" and/or illicit activities like sex work, face added stigma and criminalization, and existing harm reduction facilities, are often insufficient to meet their requirements.

GOAL 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Toxic waste dumping is a significant issue in the meth industry. According to estimates, for every pound of meth manufactured, five pounds of hazardous waste is generated. The chemicals used to make cocaine and heroin from coca leaves are extremely toxic. Each year, thousands of litres and tonnes of chemicals are released into the atmosphere after illegal drugs are made or captured and destroyed.

GOAL 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

While urgent action is needed to prevent climate change, the illegal drug trade is becoming an influential factor. Some of the most apparent repercussions of illicit drug economies include deforestation, monocultures, water and soil degradation, as well as the huge carbon footprint of in-house growing.

South American drug dealers use Central America to transport cocaine to North American consumers. To escape detection by law enforcement, traffickers are increasingly taking more distant routes, especially via protected national forests. They engage in ranching and agriculture to launder their money, two industries known for bulldozing and destroying forests to make space for animals and crops.

Forests aid in the capture and storage of planet-warming carbon dioxide; when they are destroyed by traffickers or the enterprises through which traffickers launder their money, that planet-warming gas is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for more than 20% of world carbon emissions at the moment.

GOAL 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Drugs and their metabolites can have an impact on wildlife once they are released into the environment. A group of scientists looked at the effects of methamphetamine on wild brown trout. Their discoveries were fascinating. The methamphetamine-exposed fish preferred the drug-laced water, while the untreated fish showed no such preference.

The methamphetamine-exposed fish also moved less during their withdrawal period, according to the researchers. This was viewed by the researchers as a symptom of anxiety or tension, which are common signs of drug withdrawal in humans.

One of the characteristics of drug addiction is a loss of interest in other activities, even those that are normally very motivating, such as eating or reproducing.

It's possible that the fish will begin to change their natural behaviour, posing issues with feeding, reproduction, and, ultimately, survival. They may be less likely to dodge predators, for example.

Drug exposure has an impact not just on the fish, but also on their offspring.

Addiction can be passed on over generations in fish.

Even though the problem is now solved, this could have long-term consequences for ecosystems.

GOAL 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Current drug policy has a significant negative impact on frequently vulnerable ecosystems, both directly through crop eradication programmes and indirectly through the expansion of drug cultivation into increasingly isolated locations.

Prohibition and crop eradication policies also contribute to the harm caused by the drug trade to land and river ecosystems by relocating drug production to more isolated places as growers, producers, and traffickers seek to dodge law enforcement and crop eradication efforts.

Continued deforestation, degradation of natural habitats, and loss of biodiversity caused by the war on drugs will stymie progress toward Goal 15 unless crop eradication programmes and punitive law enforcement approaches displace drug production into areas of fragile and important biodiversity are ended.

GOAL 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Militarization has been fueled by a law enforcement approach to combating the drug trade, as some states have greatly increased funding for drug law enforcement initiatives, which are typically channelled through the military.

Only by policy reform that de-militarizes responses to the drug trade can we establish peaceful and inclusive communities while reducing violence and accompanying deaths.

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Instead of encouraging meaningful collaboration between the Global North and the Global South, large donors have utilised foreign aid in the sphere of drug policy to enforce a "war on drugs" strategy in recipient countries.

Funding from the US to Latin America is one example, as is funding from the Russian Federation to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. This strategy has exacerbated violence, instability, and civil unrest in Afghanistan and Colombia.

The goal of SDG 17 is to "improve policy coherence for long-term development." Unfortunately, drug-related coordination amongst important UN bodies is still lacking, and little attention has been paid to how drug-control initiatives might help the UN achieve its broader goals of health, human rights, development, and peace and security.


Addiction and Poverty: Is There Really a Correlation? (2020, November 27). NCCAA.

SDG2: Zero hunger. (n.d.). United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime.

Drug Policy and the Sustainable Development Goals. (2015). health poverty action.

Zuccato, E., & Castiglioni, S. (2009). Illicit drugs in the environment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 367(1904), 3965–3978.


Drugs and the Environment. (n.d.). Www.Gpdpd.Org.

Calma, J. (2019, October 8). Cocaine is driving deforestation, climate change, and migration. The Verge.

Lesser, B. (2021, November 20). The Effects of Drug Production on the Environment. Dual Diagnosis.

Fertig, N., & Bade, G. (2021, August 18). An inconvenient truth (about weed). POLITICO.

Andrade, S. (2021, June 9). Why Is Growing Pot So Energy-Intensive? Slate Magazine.

Warren, G. (2021). Hotboxing the Polar Bear: The Energy and Climate Impacts of Indoor Marijuana Cultivation. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Sevcenko, M. (2017, July 14). Pot is power hungry: why the marijuana industry’s energy footprint is growing. The Guardian.

How the Underground Economy Affects Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (2021, November 29). Investopedia.

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