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Illicit Drug Supply and Covid-19: UNODC

  • 20 May 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report on ‘Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: Latest Developments and Challenges’.

  • According to this report, Covid-19 induced lockdowns and movement restrictions may lead to an initial statistical reduction in drug seizures, but without a real change in terms of supply.
  • In other words, Covid-19 is unlikely to have any effect on illicit drug supply.

Key Points

  • Shifting of Priorities: Rearrangement of governments’ priorities and resources to tackle the pandemic could threaten the efforts to strengthen drug prevention and treatment programmes.
  • No Direct Correlation: Not every fluctuation in terms of drug seizures, prices, drug-related arrests or deaths in the coming months would be a direct or indirect consequence of the outbreak.
  • Quick and Flexible Response: Active organised crime groups have shown flexibility to respond to shortages of supplies and have raised risk levels on certain trafficking routes.
  • Local Capacities: Main synthetic drug of concern in the region, Methamphetamine (also called meth), was manufactured, trafficked and consumed without the need for globalised supply chains.

Indian Context

  • India reported a substantial increase in seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), most of which are suspected to be meth.
  • The reasons behind the spike are:
    • Growth in trafficking of meth from the Golden Triangle overland to Bangladesh, with some routes crossing India.
    • The Golden Triangle represents the region coinciding with the rural mountains of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.
    • It is Southeast Asia’s main opium-producing region and one of the oldest narcotics supply routes to Europe and North America.
    • Use of maritime trafficking routes from Myanmar along the Andaman Sea, some of which cross Indian territorial waters.
  • India is in the middle of two major illicit opium production regions in the world, the Golden Crescent in the west and the Golden Triangle in the east.

Golden Crescent

  • This region of South Asia is a principal global site for opium production and distribution.
  • It comprises Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.


  • Easy Borders: The borders are porous and difficult to control in the lower Mekong region so cross-border movements in many places are not significantly hindered by Covid-19 measures.
  • Evolving Ways of Trafficking: The methods of containerised trafficking, couriers and body-packing have reduced due to shutting down of borders and trade. However, dealers might come up with other ways limiting the impact of reduced trade.
  • Limited Control: There is limited government control in the Golden Triangle, trafficking would continue at high volumes.
  • Unaffected Supply: The supply of precursor chemicals is not likely to be disrupted because major organised crime groups source chemicals through direct diversion from industry and not diversion from illicit overseas trade channels.
  • Lowest Price Level: The price of meth has dropped to the lowest level in a decade with the surge of supplies. This has in turn increased its affordability and, therefore, use.
  • Increased Crime: Changed methods to access drugs and economic hardship might reduce the disposable income of some drug users, and result in increased crime.
    • Street dealing of drugs might be significantly impacted and altered due to movement restriction and social distancing.
  • Additional Risks: Vulnerable populations of drug users may be exposed to additional risks as funding is re-prioritised, access to programmes and services becomes difficult and activities of treatment providers are hampered as they are dealing with the pandemic.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

  • Established in 1997 and was named UNODC in 2002.
  • It acts as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention by combining the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division of the United Nations Office at Vienna.
  • UNODC publishes the World Drug Report.

Way Forward

  • Additional efforts would be required at the national, regional, and international level to carefully analyse methods and trends to understand changes to drug markets in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Moreover, methods or procedures to deal with illicit drug supply, their usage must be institutionalised in order to ensure that fight against this menace is not compromised in face of a pandemic or any other crisis.

Source: TH

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