MANILA, Philippines — As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is prompting drug traffickers to find new routes and methods, illicit shipments by mail and activities via the so-called “darknet” may increase, according to the United Nations’ latest annual World Drug Report.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report 2020 warned that alternatives to drug supply over the darknet are emerging, and global drug use is rising while COVID-19 has far-reaching impact on global drug markets.
More than 35 million people around the world now suffer from drug addiction. Drug use increased more rapidly within developing countries over the 2000-2018 period, than in developed countries. Adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of those using drugs.
And because the pandemic has led to highly addictive opioid shortages, people may seek out more readily available substances, including alcohol, sedatives or by using more harmful delivery methods such as intravenous injection.
The report highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown in many countries, have led to a reduction in overall drug trafficking, which has gone hand in hand with increases in drug prices.
“At the same time, there are indications that cybercrime, including sales of drugs through the darknet at the retail level, has increased,” the report said.
The darknet is an encrypted online network that cannot be accessed by normal internet search engines such as Yahoo or Google, and is often a host for platforms that engage in illegal black market activities.
While the impact of COVID-19 on illegal drug supplies is not yet fully known, border and other restrictions linked to the pandemic have already caused drug shortages on the street. This has led to diminished purity and price hikes.
Rising unemployment and plummeting opportunities are expected to disproportionately affect the poorest, making them more vulnerable to drug use, trafficking and cultivation, to earn money so they can survive the global recession.
“The COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn threaten to compound drug dangers further still, when our health and social systems have been brought to the brink and our societies are struggling to cope,” said UNODC’s Ghada Waly.
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