According to the United Nations’ (U.N.) World Drug Report 2020, published on June 25, drug addiction affects 35.6 million people worldwide.
The report, which is annually updated, uses 2019 reference data, but also offers an analysis on the effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the drug supply chain. The report, COVID-19 and the Drug Supply Chain: from Production and Trafficking to Use, is an analysis based on information from a database of 35 member countries, as well as studies from different departments of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and articles on the subject from the international press.
The global report points to a sudden decrease in international narcotrafficking in the first months of 2020, due to measures associated with the fight against the pandemic.
“Drug trafficking relies heavily on the legal trade to hide its activities and on individuals being able to distribute drugs to consumers,” the report indicates. The measures implemented by governments to counter the virus have affected all aspects of illegal drug markets, from the production and trafficking of drugs to their consumption.
Concerning production, the report focuses on cocaine. According to UNODC, reports from the Colombian government and the press indicate that pressure from law enforcement has increased during the pandemic and that the campaign to eradicate coca plantations continues as planned. “This seems to have hampered cocaine production, as producers are suffering from a shortage of gasoline,” the report indicates. The substance is essential to produce cocaine paste, and Colombian criminals are finding it difficult to smuggle the product from Bolivia and Venezuela, as they used to before the pandemic.
In addition, in Peru, there was a 46 percent drop in the price of coca leaf from January to April 2020. UNODC believes the price drop shows a reduction in trafficking opportunities and may discourage coca cultivation in the short-term. However, in the long term, “the looming economic crisis may lead more farmers to increase cultivation in all the major cocaine-producing countries,” the U.N specialists said. Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru are the main producers of coca in the world.
Distribution faces more barriers
During the first months of 2020, there was a worldwide reported shortage of different types of drugs on the streets, as well as increases in prices for the consumers.
According to UNODC, synthetic drug trafficking is likely the most affected during the pandemic. This type of drug tends to be trafficked by air. Next is heroine, which is mostly trafficked on land, hidden among legally commercialized cargo, whereas cocaine is mostly trafficked via maritime routes, often using non-commercial vessels.
The difficulties in transporting drugs via planes, cars, or trucks may have increased maritime trafficking. This claim, according to the world report, is based on the record seizures of large shipments of cocaine that left South America on ships bound for European ports, in early 2020.