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UNODC report says: Covid-19 is changing the route of illicit drug flows

VIENNA, 7 May – UNODC report says that COVID-19 is changing the route of illicit drug flows: measures implemented by governments to curb the pandemia have indeed led to drug trafficking routes by air being disrupted, along with drastic reduction or increased interdiction in trafficking routes over land. Some drug supply chains have been interrupted and traffickers are looking for alternative routes, including maritime routes, depending on the types of drugs smuggled. These are some of the findings from a report on drug market trends during COVID-19, launched by UNODC roday.droga
Synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine tend to be trafficked across continents by air more than other types of drugs. Restrictions on air travel are, therefore, likely to have a particularly drastic effect on this illegal cargo. The bulk of cocaine is trafficked by sea and large cargos have continued to be detected in European ports during the pandemic.
So far, heroin has mostly been trafficked by land. But due to the pandemic, maritime routes seem to be increasingly used now to traffic heroin as shown by seizures of opiates in the Indian Ocean.
Trafficking in cannabis, however, may not be affected in the same way as that of heroin or cocaine, given that its production often takes place near consumer markets and traffickers are thus less reliant on long, transregional shipments of large quantities of the drug.

Several countries have reported drug shortages at the retail level. This can lead to an overall decrease in consumption, but mainly of drugs mostly consumed in recreational settings. In the case of heroin, however, a shortage in supply can lead to the consumption of harmful, domestically produced substances – heroin shortages have been reported by countries in Europe, South West Asia and North America and some countries in Europe have warned that heroin users may even switch to fentanyl and its derivatives.
An increase in the use of pharmaceutical products such as benzodiazepines has also been reported, already doubling their price in certain areas. Another harmful pattern resulting from drug shortages is the increase in injecting drug use and the sharing of injecting equipment. All of which carry the risk of spreading diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and COVID-19 itself. The risk of drug overdose may also increase among those injecting drugs and who are infected with COVID-19.

In the long-run, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to lead to a lasting and profound transformation of the drug markets, which can be fully understood only after more research is done. The economic difficulties caused by COVID-19 may affect people who are already in position of socioeconomic disadvantage harder than others.

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Il giornale Italiano delle Nazioni Unite. Ha due redazioni, una a New York, l’altra a Roma.

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