COVID-19 restrictions may have accelerated drug trafficking via Internet: Report

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The lockdown restrictions during COVID-19 may have accelerated drug trafficking using the Internet, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's World Drug Report-2021.

In Asia, the most frequently mentioned countries of shipment of drugs sold on the 19 major darknet markets analysed over 2011-2020 were China and India.

“Access to drugs has also become simpler than ever with online sales, and major drug markets on the dark web are now worth some $315 million annually. Contactless transactions, such as through the mail, are also on the rise, a trend possibly accelerated by the pandemic,” it said.

Tiny fraction

Although this is a “tiny fraction” of overall drug sales, the trend of using dark web on the rise, with a fourfold increase in annual sales from the beginning of the 2010s to more recent years.

While cannabis dominates darknet sales, marketing on the so-called clear web often involves NPS [new psychoactive substances] and precursors used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs.

The report said COVID-19-related restrictions did not seem to have affected the interception of heroin flows in South Asia. In India, the quantity of heroin seized during the first four months of 2020 (about 1 ton) was a third of the quantity seized in the previous year, suggesting a level of supply or interdiction similar to that observed in 2019.

The closure of the Kabul International Airport to passengers until the beginning of July 2020 impeded the use of air couriers for trafficking opiates to countries such as India. However, there has been a spurt in the use of maritime/waterway routes for trafficking large consignments of drugs such as heroin and crystal methamphetamine.

Opportunistic changes in routes

Stating that drug markets had largely proved to be resilient to COVID-19 related changes, the report said some drug markets experienced no change due to the pandemic, while others quickly recovered after initial disruptions or underwent opportunistic changes in routes and modi operandi. Drug trafficking even appeared to be continuing with an increased pace.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to shifts in drug use: overall, MDMA, LSD and cocaine were used less due to the closing of social and recreational venues; increased stress, boredom, more free time and changes in financial resources triggered an increase in the use of cannabis, as well as in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs,” it said.

Another key finding was that the pandemic had accelerated some drug trafficking patterns, with larger shipment size, increased use of private aircraft and contactless methods to deliver drugs to end consumers.

The pandemic pushed over 100 million people into extreme poverty, and greatly exacerbated unemployment and inequalities, as the world lost 114 million jobs last year. “In doing so, it has created conditions that leave more people susceptible to drug use and to engaging in illicit crop cultivation,” said the report.

Cannabis continued to dominate the quantities of drugs seized globally. India was among the countries from where the seizure of largest quantities of cannabis herb was reported in 2019.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 7:13:21 AM |

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