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COVID-19 pandemic worsened substance abuse and drug overdose

COVID-19 pandemic worsened substance abuse and drug overdose
Around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year of unprecedented upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19 pandemic worsened substance abuse and drug overdose

Around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year of unprecedented upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, up by 22% from 2010, says the latest annual report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC). Despite lockdowns and international travel restrictions, the COVID-19 pandemic, since 2019, has increased drug abuse across the world.

This International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, this article draws attention to a “dark epidemic” that is consuming young adults and teenagers alike. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed more than a 100 million people into extreme poverty, and has greatly exacerbated unemployment and inequalities, as the world lost 255 million jobs in 2020. This has also spiked mental health conditions, and these factors have led to a rise in drug use disorders.

The UNODC 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. As such, access to drugs has become simpler than ever, with online sales and major drug markets on the dark web now worth some $315 million annually. Moreover, rapid technology 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.

Jesse C. Baumgartner and David C. Radley, research associate and senior scientist, The Commonwealth Fund, in a report highlighted that overdose deaths rose during the second half of 2019. Experts feared the pandemic would produce conditions that would further increase overdoses and deaths – economic shock, social isolation and increased mental health distress, and disrupted access to addiction support and medications that require face-to-face visits.

The report brought opioid-related deaths to the fore, specifically synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Opioids accounted for around 75% of all overdose deaths during the early months of the pandemic; around 80% of those included synthetic opioids.

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The UNODC warned that increasing drug use will involve massive investment in health and an expansion of prevention programs. Furthermore, in a survey of health professionals in 77 countries, a rise in the non-medical use of sedatives was reported in 64% of countries and the consumption of cannabis was reported to have increased in 42% of countries during the pandemic.

In Europe, the purity of cocaine available increased by 40% in the past decade. This means high quality cocaine has become cheaper and more accessible. Cocaine trafficking route between South America and Europe is the second biggest in the world. Notedly, much of the cocaine in Europe used to be imported through well-established channels by Italian organized criminal groups and through alliances between Colombian and Spanish groups. And there is Afghanistan, capital of the world’s opium. This war-torn country recorded a boom, 37% increase, in opium poppy production during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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