What is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2020
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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is a UN agency that helps member governments reduce and prevent drug abuse and trafficking, corruption, and international terrorism. The agency was created in 1997 when the United Nations International Drug Control Program and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division were combined. There are approximately 500 UNODC staff members who work in more than 21 field offices around the world. Vienna is the headquarters of the agency as of 2011, and there are liaison offices in New York City and Brussels.

The agency addresses many different international drug- and crime-related issues. The more prevalent challenges include corruption, prison reform, and human and drug trafficking. The UNODC also advises member governments on the implementation of drug prevention and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) treatment programs. Money laundering, terrorism, and organized crime also fall within its jurisdiction.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a trio of functions. It provides research to help guide public policy. This is complemented by field work in and cooperation projects with individual member states. Assistance with the ratification and implementation of international treaties related to drug and crime prevention is also provided. The UNODC also works to develop domestic legislation in accordance with the agency’s goals.


Anti-money laundering programs and monitoring the cultivation of illicit crops are two of the agency's initiatives. Additionally, it works at the domestic level to establish stable and viable criminal justice systems and a strong rule of law. A stable and effective criminal justice system can help stem the influence of international organized crime and corruption.

In addition to preventing and monitoring illicit drug trafficking and cultivation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime works with individual nations to develop alternative livelihoods for those involved in drug production. Its annual report, called the World Drug Report, is arguably one of the most comprehensive pictures of drug trafficking and production. Annual crop surveys of the primary drug-producing nations are also included.

International terrorism has been a focus of the agency since it was founded. Its Terrorism Prevention Branch was expanded in 2002, and it helps countries ratify and implement legal instruments against terrorism by providing legislative and technical guidance.

Voluntary contributions from member governments make up more than 90% of the agency’s budget, with the largest contributions from the United States and Sweden. The UNODC maintains a vast network of field offices that allows for local support in all the world’s regions, and it works directly with non-governmental organizations as well as member governments. Drug and crime prevention programs are tailored to meet local needs.


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