Friday, 26 June 2020 12:51

UNODC World Drug Report 2020: Global drug use rising

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Around 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018, which is 30 per cent more than in 2009,  while over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders, according to the latest World Drug Report, released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The Report also analyses the impact of COVID-19 on the drug markets, and while its effects are not yet fully known, border and other restrictions linked to the pandemic have already caused shortages of drugs on the street, leading to increased prices and reduced purity.

“Vulnerable and marginalized groups, youth, women and the poor pay the price for the world drug problem. 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, so we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, promote justice and leave no one behind.”

The market for opiates in Central Asia appears to have been transformed between 2008 and 2018, and the market in stimulants appears to be booming. Heroin trafficking through Central Asia destined for the Russian Federation appears to be decreasing over the past decade, although recent large seizures suggest that the region may be emerging as a transit route to Western and Central Europe. Once accounting for 10 per cent of global seizures, the so-called northern route from Afghanistan made up just 1 per cent in 2018. The prevalence of people who inject drugs (PWID) aged 15–64 in 2018 continues to be the highest in Eastern Europe (1.26 per cent) and Central Asia and Transcaucasia (0.63 per cent). Those percentages are, respectively, 5.5 and 2.8 times higher than the global average.

“It is our joint shared responsibility to ensure that Central Asia remains safe from illicit drugs and organized crime. The only way forward is to foster greater international, cross-border and inter-agency cooperation for achieving our shared vision to strengthen progress security, health and sustainable development, to guarantee safe and secure lives, prosperity of people, and especially, the young generation,” said UNODC Regional Representative to Central Asia, Ms. Ashita Mittal. “In the COVID-19 recovery, we need all countries to act on their commitments, and show shared responsibility to tackle illicit drug supply and reduce demand.”

Though, the current COVID-19 crisis has caused sharp decrease in drug seizures in Central Asia, due to the pandemic, traffickers are exploring new routes and methods, and trafficking activities via the darknet and shipments by mail. The pandemic has also lead to opiates shortages, which in turn may result in people seeking out more readily available substances such as alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, extracted opium (poppy seed), or mixing with synthetic drugs. More harmful patterns of use may emerge as some users switch to injecting, or more frequent injecting.

Looking at further effects of the current pandemic, the Report says that if governments react the same way as they did to the economic crisis in 2008, when they reduced drug-related budgets, then interventions such as prevention of drug use and related risk behaviours, drug treatment services, the provision of naloxone for management and reversal of opioid overdose could be hard hit. Interception operations and international cooperation may also become less of a priority, making it easier for traffickers to operate.

Trends in drug use

While cannabis was the most used substance worldwide in 2018, with an estimated 192 million people using it worldwide. Opioids, however, remain the most harmful, as over the past decade, the total number of deaths due to opioid use disorders went up 71 percent, with a 92 per cent increase among women compared with 63 per cent among men.

Drug use increased far more rapidly among developing countries over the 2000-2018 period than in developed countries. Adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of those using drugs, while young people are also the most vulnerable to the effects of drugs because they use the most and their brains are still developing.

Availability of pharmaceutical opioids for medical consumption varies across the globe

The Report also points out that low-income countries still suffer a critical shortage of pharmaceutical opioids for pain management and palliative care. More than 90 per cent of all pharmaceutical opioids available for medical consumption were in high-income countries in 2018 comprising around 12 per cent of the global population. While the low and middle-income countries comprising 88 per cent of the global population are estimated to consume less than 10 percent of pharmaceutical opioids. Access to pharmaceutical opioids depend on several factors including legislation, culture, health systems and prescribing practices.

Socio-economically disadvantaged face greater risk from drug use disorders

Poverty, limited education and social marginalization remain major factors increasing the risk of drug use disorders and vulnerable and marginalized groups may also face barriers to getting treatment services due to discrimination and stigma.


The World Drug Report and further content is available here: wdr.unodc.org

The 2020 World Drug Report provides a global overview of the supply and demand of opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impact on health, taking into account the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights, through improved research and more precise data, that the adverse health consequences of drug use are more widespread than previously thought.

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