Both on a global and a regional basis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set prominent goals for the turn of the millennium on the reduction of harms associated with licit and illicit drugs. Gauging what the world and its different regions are doing with respect to these specific public health goals is hindered by a conceptual problem: there is no clear concept and consistent way of defining or measuring 'harm' related to drugs, licit or illicit. In many instances, 'harm' is equated with substance use prevalence. Often, especially outside the developed world, basic harm data is not even available. Globally, a conceptually clear and consistently applied scheme of harm measurement related to licit and illicit drugs is needed, acknowledging the fact that drug-related harms occur at different individual and social levels as well as over different periods of time. Harms must also be recognized as an outcome of interactions between the substance user, the drug itself, and the physical and social environment. Looking at available macro-indicators of harm, it must be concluded with, we do not seem to be 'on track' globally in reducing harms related to drugs in accordance with the WHO goals. For alcohol and tobacco, trends for increased harm are just starting to show in the developing world, and will worsen over the next couple of decades. For illicit drugs, failing drug control policies have result in dramatically negative developments for public health, especially with respect to HIV infections and drug-related deaths, in the developed as well as developing world.