Hardship may push people into making drugs for a living: UNODC

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Representational image  

It says due to economic hardship, more may resort to illicit activities linked to drugs to make a living

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its 2020 World Drug Report, has highlighted a wide range of possible consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on illegal drug production, supply and consumption.

The report, released on Friday, expressed concern over the adverse impact of the economic hardship caused by the pandemic. This could lead to an increase in the number of people resorting to illicit activities linked to drugs to make a living.

As experienced during the 2008 economic crisis, it could result in reductions in drug-related budgets of the governments; overall increase in drug use, with a shift towards cheaper and more harmful drugs.

The measures taken by governments to counter the pandemic inevitably had double-edged consequences on large-scale drug supply.

Diverted focus

Some countries, such as Italy, the Niger and countries in Central Asia, have experienced a sharp decrease in drug seizures, amid reports that drug traffickers have diverted their attention to other illegal activities, including cybercrime and trafficking in falsified medicines (in Balkan countries).

Other countries, including Morocco and Iran, have reported huge drug seizures, indicating large-scale drug trafficking, while some have reported an increase in interdiction resulting from increased controls.

The report, which is in six volumes, said the lockdown could hinder the production and sale of opiates in major producing countries. The key months for the opium harvest in Afghanistan are March to June. This year’s harvest took place during the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the harvest, a shortage of poppy lancers was observed in the western and southern provinces of the country, mainly due to the closure of a border crossing with Pakistan. However, women in poppy-growing households appeared to be increasingly engaged in the poppy-lancing process, as did people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis,” said the report, adding that the shortage of lancers was eventually overcome.

Supply shortage

The decline in international trade resulting from the pandemic could lead to a shortage in the supply of acetic anhydride, a precursor vital to the manufacture of heroin, which is not produced in Afghanistan. “Such a shortage could lead to a reduction in the manufacturing of heroin or push it outside the country or even the region,” it said.

In Myanmar, there are indications that this year’s opium harvest, which was concluded before the onset of the pandemic, faces a shortage of buyers possibly due to the restrictions of movement.

The restrictions are also impeding cocaine production in the short term, but a resurgence is likely in the event of an economic crisis.

Drug trafficking by air is likely to be completely disrupted by the restrictions on air travel. There are signs of increased use of maritime routes.

Maritime routes

“A recent uptick in heroin seizures in the Indian Ocean could be interpreted as an indication of an increase in the use of maritime routes for trafficking heroin to Europe along the ‘southern route’. If confirmed, the shift ... would indicate a change in the strategy of drug trafficking organisations as a result of the COVID-19 measures,” the report said.

While border measures appear to be hindering trafficking in opiates, large shipments of cocaine are still being trafficked but by alternative means, via sea routes. Shipments by mail may also increase. The report said COVID-19 measures were also likely to lead to the stockpiling of drugs.

Indications are that the lockdown is increasing demand for cannabis, given that its production often takes place near consumer markets and traffickers. The restrictions also seem to have resulted in increasing cannabis sales over the darknet. An estimated 192 million people used cannabis in 2018, making it the most used drug globally.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 5:10:15 PM |

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