World Drug Report 2020

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Context: Recently, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its 2020 World Drug Report, has highlighted the possible consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on Illegal Drug Production, Supply, and Consumption. According to it, due to economic hardship, people may resort to illicit activities linked to drugs to make a living. The report further, revealed that the measures are taken by governments to counter the pandemic inevitably had double-edged consequences on large-scale drug supply. 

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.
Mains: GS II –

  • Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Published By
  • UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the International Day Against Drug Abuse celebrated every year on 26th June.
Theme 2020
  • The theme for the 2020 International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking “Better Knowledge for Better Care”.
  • This emphasizes the need to improve the understanding of the world drug problem and how in turn, better knowledge will foster greater international cooperation for countering its impact on health, governance, and security.
Highlights of the report
  • Economic Crisis and Diverted Focus:
    • There would be reductions in drug-related budgets of the governments due to Covid-19 and an overall increase in drug use, with a shift towards cheaper and more harmful drugs.
    • Some countries, such as Italy, the Niger, and countries in Central Asia, have experienced a sharp decrease in drug seizures, as drug traffickers have diverted their attention to other illegal activities, including cybercrime and trafficking in falsified medicines (in Balkan countries).
    • Other countries, including Morocco and Iran, have reported huge drug seizures, indicating large-scale drug trafficking.
  • Impact of Lockdown:
    • The lockdown could hinder the production and sale of opiates in major producing countries as the key months for the opium harvest in Afghanistan are March to June.
    • The decline in international trade resulting from the pandemic could lead to a shortage in the supply of acetic anhydride, a precursor vital to the manufacture of heroin
    • A shortage of poppy lancers was observed in the western and southern provinces of the country, mainly due to the closure of a border crossing with Pakistan. However, the shortage of lancers was eventually overcome due to women workers increasingly engaged in the poppy-lancing process, therefore
    • The report also indicated that the lockdown is increasing demand for cannabis, given that its production often takes place near consumer markets and traffickers.
    • Drug trafficking by air is likely to be completely disrupted by the restrictions on air travel. There are signs of increased use of maritime routes.
  • Maritime Routes:
    • The recent heroin seizures in the Indian Ocean could be interpreted as an indication of an increase in the use of maritime routes for trafficking heroin to Europe along the ‘southern route’.
    • While border measures appear to be hindering trafficking in opiates, large shipments of cocaine are still being trafficked but by alternative means, via sea routes.

India and Illicit Drug Trade
  • Major Hub of Illicit Drug Trade:
    • According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), India is one of the major hubs of illicit drug trade ranging from age-old cannabis to newer prescription drugs like tramadol, and designer drugs like methamphetamine.
  • Drug Trafficking Routes:
    • India is in the middle of two major illicit opium production regions in the world, the Golden Crescent (Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan) in the west and the Golden Triangle (South-East Asia) in the east.
Golden Triangle
  • It 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.
Golden Crescent
  • This region of South Asia is a principal global site for opium production and distribution.
  • It comprises Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.
  • Heroin is manufactured from the morphine extracted from the seed pod of opium poppy plants.
Opium Facts
  • Opium is illicitly produced in about 50 countries.
  • However, close to 97% of the total global production of opium in the past five years came from only 3 countries.
  • 84% of the total opium was produced in Afghanistan. 
  • Myanmar accounts for 7% of the global opium production, and Laos accounted for 1% of the opium production. 
  • Mexico accounts for 6% of the global opium production, while Colombia and Guatemala account for less than 1% of global production.

Associated Challenges:
  • 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 the shutting down of borders and trade. However, dealers might come up with other ways to limit 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 of major organised crime groups source chemicals through direct diversion from industry and not a diversion from illicit overseas trade channels.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  • About:
    • It was established in 1997 and was named as a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (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.
  • These are the main themes that UNODC deals with:
    • Alternative Development, anti-corruption, Criminal Justice, Prison Reform, and Crime Prevention, Drug Prevention, -Treatment and Care, HIV and AIDS, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, Money Laundering, Organized Crime, Piracy, Terrorism Prevention.

Way Forward
  • Additional efforts would be required at the national, regional, and international levels to carefully analyze methods and trends to understand changes to drug markets in the wake of the pandemic.
  • There is a need to understand the change in the strategy of drug trafficking organisations as a result of the Covid-19 measures.
  • Therefore, the use of maritime trafficking routes from Myanmar along the Andaman Sea, some of which cross Indian territorial waters must be strategically observed by India to curb the trafficking.
  • 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.

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