Pandemic could hit drug markets as in 2008 crisis: UN

By: AFP      Published: 05:00 PM, 25 Jun, 2020
Pandemic could hit drug markets as in 2008 crisis: UN

The new coronavirus pandemic could hit drug markets just as the 2008 economic crisis did, exacerbating the risks for users, the UN drugs and crime agency warned Thursday.

In its 2020 World Drug Report, the agency predicted an overall increase in drug use due to the pandemic, with a shift towards consuming cheaper products and injecting them, which carries greater risks. Countries were also likely to reduce drug-related budgets, it warned.

They might also give less priority to interception operations and international cooperation, which would make it easier for traffickers to operate. Rising unemployment and a lack of opportunities would increase the chances that "poor and disadvantaged people... turn to illicit activities linked to drugs -– either production or transport".

"The COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn threaten to compound drug dangers further still, when our health and social systems have been brought to the brink and our societies are struggling to cope," said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. "We need all governments to show greater solidarity and provide support, to developing countries most of all, to tackle illicit drug trafficking and offer evidence-based services for drug use disorders and related diseases."

The Vienna-based agency said it had reached its conclusions based on what had happened in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.

Drug shipments by sea

Border closures and other measures linked to the pandemic have already caused shortages of drugs on the street, leading to higher prices and reduced purity, the report noted. Drug traffickers seemed to rely more on maritime routes, such as direct cocaine shipments by sea from South America to Europe.

Online trafficking via the darknet, which offers users total anonymity, and shipments by mail might also increase, it added. Drug consumption overall is already on the rise, especially in developing countries, said the report.

While in 2009 an estimated 210 million people worldwide used drugs at least once, in 2018 that figure was closer to 269 million -- or 5.3 percent of the global population. The report, which mostly examined data up to early 2019, also noted that use of cocaine and methamphetamine was rising, with the methamphetamine markets in Afghanistan and Iraq growing.

Global cocaine production again reached an all-time high, continuing its record-setting trend. Cannabis remains the most widely used drug worldwide with an estimated 192 million users in 2018. But opioids, used by around 58 million people, remained the most harmful.