Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 403, 30 June 2021

UNODC World Drug Report: 36 million struggled with drug use disorders globally in 2020
Jeshil Samuel J

In the news
On 24 June, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the annual World Drug Report. Divided into five separate booklets, the report individually examines the policy implications in combatting illegal drugs, the supply and demand for illegal drugs, the market trends towards cannabis and other opioids, the market trends towards cocaine and other amphetamine-type stimulants, and finally, the impact of COVID-19 on drugs. The report aims to foster greater international cooperation in combatting the drug problem and assist member states in addressing challenges that may arise regarding the same in the future.

The key findings of the report are as follows. First, the number of people using drugs increased by 22 per cent between 2010 and 2019, partly because of the increase in the global population. Second, nearly 275 million people used drugs globally in 2020, and over 36 million struggled with drug use disorders. Third, cannabis has become more potent in the last ten years. However, fewer young people see it as a harmful drug. Fourth, the sale of drugs on the dark web increased fourfold between 2017 and 2020, amounting to annual revenue of nearly USD 315 million. Fifth, the number of drug users in Africa is estimated to increase by 40 per cent by 2030. Sixth, drug markets have made a quick recovery from the pandemic, and the trafficking of drugs has increased alongside contactless drug transactions. Seventh, the increased use of technology during the pandemic has led to innovations in drug prevention and treatment services, enabling healthcare professionals to treat more addicts.

Issues at large
First, the fallouts of drug abuse. Drug abuse does not stop with affecting the abuser, it also takes a toll on the socio-economic conditions of their families and country. In many cases, drug abuse has far-reaching repercussions like domestic abuse, compromised livelihood, involvement in criminal activities, unhealthy relationships, and suicidal tendencies. In 2019 alone, the impact of drug abuse on the American economy was estimated to be USD 193 billion. That same year, there were around 50,000 recorded deaths in the US that resulted from overdosing on opioids. At present, more than 11 million people are addicted to injecting drugs, and around half of them suffer from Hepatitis C. These individuals are also at higher risk of succumbing to new diseases as they do not use new or sterilized needles all the time.

Second, the changing dynamics of drug trafficking and sales. The pandemic forced drug dealers to explore new methods and platforms to sell drugs. The rapid growth in technological innovation may soon create a globalized market with a wider reach. Drug sales and marketing in popular e-commerce platforms and social media are stark reminders that accessibility to drugs is increasing. Drug trafficking has also increased due to the rise in demand, resulting in larger shipments being trafficked using private planes and waterway routes. Contactless delivery of drugs has also become popular with the help of cryptocurrencies for buyers and mail or drone deliveries for sellers.

Third, the fallouts of the pandemic. The pandemic has worsened the economic conditions of numerous countries leading to a spike in the global unemployment rate. The rising unemployment rates could push more people to work as daily labourers in illicit crop farms or for drug traffickers. The pandemic has also fostered poverty, inequality and mental health conditions, which have pushed many people into using drugs. This increased usage of drugs will inevitably lead to an increase in drug use disorders.

Fourth, the epidemic of misinformation. This year's theme for the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was "Share facts on drugs. Save lives". The large scale spread of misinformation by drug advertisers and sellers has led youngsters in particular to have a false perception of the potency of drugs like cannabis.

In perspective
The report suggests major additions to government policies that could help tackle the drug problem more effectively. A few of the suggestions include increased funding for research on the potency of drugs, regulation of cryptocurrency markets, updating scientific standards regularly, constant transaction of intelligence between law enforcement agencies, and improved socio-economic conditions for marginalized communities susceptible to drug usage. However, most of these solutions are easier said than done. 

An increase in funding for research and rehabilitation has been a problem even for developed countries. Improving the socio-economic conditions of marginalized communities might not be possible due to the financial impact of the pandemic. As long as unemployment is on the rise, so will the usage of drugs.

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