The latest annual world drug report has found that around 275 million people used illegal drugs in the last year of unprecedented upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, up by 22 percent from 2010 and it is “business as usual” again for drug traffickers.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2021, that provides an overview of global drug markets and their impact on people’s health and livelihoods, shows that drug markets have swiftly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the pandemic – a burst that has triggered or accelerated certain pre-existing trafficking dynamics across the global drug market.
The new report reveals that drug traffickers have quickly recovered from initial setbacks caused by lockdown restrictions and are operating at pre-pandemic levels once again, driven in part by a rise in the use of technology and cryptocurrency payments, operating outside the regular financial system.
Rapid technological innovation, combined with the agility and adaptability of drug traffickers, who are using new online platforms to sell drugs and other substances, are likely to increase the availability of illicit drugs.
While the impact of Covid-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities.
The social impact of the pandemic – driving a rise in inequality, poverty and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations – represents factors that could push more people into drug use.
The global increase in drug use despite the pandemic underlines the complexity and scale involved in any war against drugs, figurative or literal. Some governments will respond with evidence and science-based solutions to address the root cause while others might double down on indiscriminate brute force, no matter how counterproductive or ineffective such methods may be.
The Philippines is not the only country facing the problem of illegal drugs and our government’s chosen solution is not the only one. As the problem continues, even despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we will have to explore the different ways of facing the complex and illicit global issue of drug use and trafficking.*