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Insights into Editorial: Drug abuse amidst pandemic

 

 

Context:

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed on June 26 every year to make people, especially the youths, aware about the harmful effects of drugs and highlight the dangers of drug abuse.

The first International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was observed in 1989. This year, the world will devote a full day calling out drug abuse and the modes to neutralise the systemic challenges which sustain the illegal drug mess, for the 31st time.

 

Introduction:

More people are using drugs, and more illicit drugs are available than ever. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed our fragility, with health systems strained and social safety nets stretched to the limit.

The economic downturn caused by the global pandemic may drive more people to substance abuse or leave them vulnerable to involvement in drug trafficking and related crime. We have been here before.

In the global recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis, drug users sought out cheaper synthetic substances and patterns of use shifted towards injecting drugs, while governments reduced budgets to deal with drug-related problems.

 

Vulnerable and marginalised groups, youth, women and the poor have been harmed the most:

Now facing the gravest socio-economic crisis in generations, governments cannot afford to ignore the dangers illicit drugs pose to public health and safety.

All over the world, the risks and consequences of drug use are worsened by poverty, limited opportunities for education and jobs, stigma and social exclusion, which in turn helps to deepen inequalities, moving us further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While more people use drugs in developed countries than in developing countries, and wealthier segments of society have a higher prevalence of drug use, people who are socially and economically disadvantaged are more likely to develop drug use disorders.

Only one out of eight people who need drug-related treatment receive it, according to the World Drug Report 2020.

Some 35.6 million people suffer from drug use disorders globally.

 

Pandemic could put people at greater risks from illicit drug trade: UNODC:

  1. The pandemic could change the future of the drug market for the worse, warns the annual United Nations report on drug use and intervention recommendations.
  2. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2020, published, shows that the health crisis and attendant economic downturn could lead to greater vulnerability among the poor and disadvantaged to drug use and the illicit drug trade.
  3. The impact of the COVID-10 pandemic [on drug markets] is unknown and hard to predict, but it could be far-reaching, the UNODC cautions in its executive summary, which compares the pandemic’s potential impact to that of the 2008 financial crisis.
  4. COVID-19 is going to leave youths jobless. If people are losing jobs, they are more vulnerable to organized crime, illicit trafficking, and being dragged into an illicit economy.
  5. Because joblessness and poverty put a lot of pressure on people.
  6. Published to coincide with June 26, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the report is a wake-up call for many countries.
  7. It urges them to continue to clamp down on the illicit drug trade within their borders and to continue providing prevention and rehabilitation programs during the pandemic.
  8. According to UNODC data, the world had an estimated 269 million drug users in 2018, or 5.3 percent of the global population and an increase from the 210 million users recorded in 2009. Adolescents and young adults comprised the largest proportion of drug users.
  9. On the supply side, COVID-19 restrictions on movement could force producers “to seek out new ways to manufacture drugs” and traffickers to find new routes and methods, said the UNODC.
  10. Border and other restrictions linked to the pandemic have already caused shortages of drugs on the street, leading to increased prices and reduced purity.
  11. Countries have already reported drug shortages, which could have negative health consequences for people with drug use disorders as they search for more harmful alternatives while treatment services are hobbled during lockdowns.
  12. But the measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are having a mixed impact on drug trafficking in different regions.
  13. In Southeast Asia, COVID-19 restrictions had less impact on drug trafficking, as the region’s most widely consumed drug, methamphetamine, was locally produced and used.

 

The affected segments and sections of society:

  1. One out of three drug users are a woman but women represent only one out of five people in treatment.
  2. People in prison settings, minorities, immigrants and displaced people also face barriers to treatment due to discrimination and stigma.
  3. Around 269 million people used drugs in 2018, up 30% from 2009, with adolescents and young adults accounting for the largest share of users.
  4. While the increase reflects population growth and other factors, the data nevertheless indicate that illicit drugs are more diverse, more potent and more available.
  5. At the same time, more than 80% of the world’s population, mostly living in low- and middle-income countries, are deprived of access to controlled drugs for pain relief and other essential medical uses.
  6. Governments have repeatedly pledged to work together to address the challenges posed by the world drug problem, in the SDGs, and most recently in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
  7. But data indicate that support has actually fallen over time, imperilling government commitment as well as regional and global coordination.
  8. Development assistance dedicated to drug control fell by some 90% between 2000-2017. Funding to address drugs may be provided under other budget lines, but there is little evidence of international donor attention to this priority.
  9. Assistance for alternative development creating viable, licit forms of income to enable poor farmers to stop growing illicit opium poppy or coca also remains very low.
  10. Leaving no one behind requires greater investment in evidence-based prevention, as well as treatment and other services for drug use disorders, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections.
  11. We need international cooperation to increase access to controlled drugs for medical purposes, while preventing diversion and abuse, and to strengthen law enforcement action to dismantle the transnational organised crime networks.

 

Conclusion:

The main objective of celebrating International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was to spread awareness against the rampant drug abuse in the society. In view of Covid-19 pandemic, an online campaign was launched to spread awareness.

Banners, posters, and hoardings depicting ill effects of drug abuse would be shared online.

SHOs, Suwidha centres and traffic staff was also directed to spread awareness among the people while maintaining social distancing.

Health-centred, rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to drug use and related diseases deliver better public health outcomes.

As we seek to overcome and recover from the COVID-19 crisis, our societies cannot risk compounding illicit drug threats through inattention and neglect.

We need drug strategies addressing the country-level, as well as regional challenges.