Illicit Drug Trafficking Routes Photo: CIA

Special Report: How COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting illegal drug trade

* Traffickers are shifting to virus-related crimes to hurt consumers: UN

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As several countries across the globe continue to impose widespread travel restrictions, order the closure of airports, increase border controls, reduce air traffic as well as shut national borders to curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the pandemic is disrupting the illicit drug trade.

A United Nations-sponsored report has warned that virus outbreak’s economic fallout may lead to more people getting involved in the business, reports Bloomberg.

It noted that the upcoming opium harvest in Afghanistan may be hurt by virus-related labour shortages, and cocaine output in Colombia has been hit by a lack of gasoline, while production of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been slowed by shortages of precursor chemicals from Southeast Asia.

The report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated that lockdowns in Europe might trigger an increase in demand for marijuana that can likely be serviced by more local production.

“Mobility restrictions, closed borders, and a decline in overall world trade can disrupt the supply chains of drug markets and may diversify drug trafficking patterns and routes.

“Sudden changes in the supply and availability of drugs can in turn trigger changes in consumption behaviours,” stated the report.

The disruptions vary depending on the type of drug and the geography of the production and traffic routes.

The 37-page document is based on data from government, open sources, including the media, and UNDOC field offices.

It further revealed that illegal drug trade and/or trafficking has seen less disruption in areas with fewer virus-control measures, such as the Middle East and the Balkans.

However, the report observed that the fallout from the virus will also potentially have long-term effects. The disruption to trafficking may lead to stockpiling of drugs along supply chains.

That could create an increase in supply once restrictions are eased, and could flood markets with cheap, very pure drugs, risking an uptick in overdoses.

And the economic hardship caused by COVID-19 may also produce additional burdens on the disadvantaged that could lead to more people entering the drug trade, according to the report.

The disruptions are also prompting drug dealers to change strategies, and there is evidence that some are resorting to sea routes, with air transport limited and border patrols more onerous.

Traffickers are also exploiting the Coronavirus fallout to enhance their social standing by providing assistance to local populations.

They also may be diversifying into virus-related cybercrime and distributing fake medicines, the report warned.

“There are indications that drug trafficking groups are adapting their strategies in order to continue their operations, and that some have started to exploit the situation so as to enhance their image among the population by providing services, in particular to the vulnerable,” the report said.

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