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COVID-19 has changed drug trafficking: UN official

Opioids claim more lives than other drugs -- 69% of deaths related to drug use disorders: Head of UN drugs and crime office

Peter Kenny   | 12.04.2021
COVID-19 has changed drug trafficking: UN official

GENEVA

COVID-19 has changed drug trafficking, and during the pandemic, opioids continued to claim more lives than other drugs, resulting in 69% of deaths related to drug use disorders, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Monday.

Ghada Fathi Waly, the UNODC director-general, told the opening of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that the pandemic has increased vulnerabilities associated with harmful coping mechanisms and risky behaviors around drug use.

“The pandemic has brought about changes in drug trafficking and the illicit drug market as a result of mobility restrictions and related measures,” said Waly.

“In the shadow of the pandemic, opioids continued to claim more lives than any other drug, resulting in 69% of deaths related to drug use disorders.”

She said the crisis had hit the coverage and the quality of prevention, treatment, care, and rehabilitation services for drug use disorders, HIV, and related diseases.

Such life-saving services must be improved and brought to everyone needing them, both during and after the pandemic, she said.

Waly said access to controlled substances for medical purposes has also been affected.

“In countries with little or no access to controlled medicines, particularly low and middle-income countries, patients were often unable to receive medications for pain management even before the pandemic, and the crisis only made things worse,” said Waly.

Rising poverty and unemployment resulting from the crisis have also further deepened vulnerabilities.

“More people are now without access to proper care, and at greater risk of drug use, and potentially more likely to turn to drug cultivation or trafficking in their desperation to earn a living,” said the UN official.

She noted that the IMF estimates that global GDP contracted by 3.3% last year and said financial crises shift harmful drug usage patterns.

Studies from the 2008 financial crisis show that in its aftermath, drug use patterns became more harmful, with a shift to cheaper drugs and injecting drug use, while government budgets to address the drug problem decreased, said Waly.

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