Coronavirus did not impact worldwide drug network, UN report finds

Contactless methods of drug delivery like post and even drones are on the rise

epa09295378 Spanish National Police and agents from the Spanish Tax Agency display bags containing 1 ton of cocaine in Cadiz, Spain, 23 June 2021. The drug was seized from sailing boat 'Windwhisper', part of a drug smuggling network that operated in Cadiz, that was detained by Spanish National Police and Tax Agency agents during the operation on board Spanish Ship 'Fulmar', 13 June 2021, at sea near the Azores. The drug trafficking network, led by a former member of the British Royal Navy, introduced the drug by boat through Gibraltar and the Costa del Sol in the South of Spain. The network, that has been operating for some 14 years, was mainly focused in hashish smuggling but had recently started trafficking with cocaine. More than half of the detained are British nationals.  EPA/ROMAN RIOS

The global drug market has not been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has instead pushed more people into taking narcotics, the UN said on Thursday.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned in its annual report that opium poppy and coca leaf cultivation could increase as people have been left unemployed due to the economic crisis created by the pandemic.

“The drug markets have not drastically changed during the pandemic but some dynamics have been accelerated for example the mode of transportation,” Angela Me, UNODC’s chief of research and trend analysis said during a press conference.

“They have attempted to find other ways to transport drugs for example through maritime and rivers other than land,” Ms Me said.

Drug networks have found innovation in the retail distribution of narcotics, with “street dealing becoming less prevalent as contactless methods such as online purchasing and delivery by mail and even drones, become more common,” said the report.

Ms Me said the size of shipments has increased across all regions since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Traffickers have taken “contactless ways of delivery drugs through the use of the internet, mail and couriers,” Ms Me said.

“These methods will most likely stay if proven to be less risky,” she said.

During the last year, nearly 275 million people globally used drugs. The figure is up from 226 million in 2010.

The 22 per cent increase was partly attributable to a 10 per cent rise in the global population in the past decade, she said.

According to the annual report, the pandemic has accelerated elements that increase the cycle of socio-economic vulnerability and drug use disorders.

Poverty, wars, mental health conditions have increased the use of drugs.

The rise of the use of cannabis has also been reported in most countries, said the report, adding that the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs has increased.

The consumption of drugs that are "typically used in social settings", such as cocaine, has decreased.

Low income countries are predicted to see a 43 per cent increase in drug use by 2030, while middle-income countries will see a 10 percent increase, and high-income countries a one per cent reduction.

The number of drug users in the African continent is projected to rise in the next decade by as much as 40 per cent.

The production of opium poppies has increased in Afghanistan, the country reported a 37 per cent rise in the amount of land used for illicit cultivation of opium poppies during 2020 compared with the previous year.

It was the third highest figure ever recorded in the country and accounted for 85 per cent of the global total of opium production in 2020.

The report called on the international community to accelerate its co-operation in fighting drug trafficking.

"It is essential that law enforcement agencies operating at key border points exchange information and transfer knowledge at the regional and international levels on effective interdiction approaches and best practices," the report said.