Since the early 90s, national economic growth has averaged 6% except when briefly interrupted in 1997 due to the Asian Financial Crisis. This has enabled the Lao PDR to expand its road system with several highways traversing the country (some part of the Asian Highway), build four bridges across the Mekong (with more planned), and undertake large hydropower schemes.
The Lao PDR has expanded its international contacts during this time, such as by joining ASEAN in July 1997. In relation to drug control, the country entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UNODC in 1993 to implement its Regional Action Plan to reduce drug use. After the Lao PDR participated in the United Nations General Assembly's 20th Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Situation in 1998, the Government formulated its Balanced Approach to Opium Reduction the following year which led to opium being eliminated in the country.
Despite this progress, the Lao PDR remains a Least Developed Country with 80% of the people subsistence farmers and 4 of its 6.7 million people living on US$2 or less per day. Progress is being made in meeting the country's aim of emerging from least-developed status by 2020. UNDP 's Global Human Development index now ranks the Lao PDR at 133 out of 177 countries with the country at the "Medium Human Development" level. Essential to meeting this goal is addressing the threats to society and stability from illicit drugs including drug induced violence, crime, corruption, money laundering, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.