In its 2020 World Drug Report, the UNODC said Friday the COVID-19 crisis could lead to an overall increase in drug use with a shift towards cheaper products and injecting, both of which could mean greater danger for users.
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"Vulnerable and marginalized groups, youth, women, and the poor pay the price for the world drug problem. 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," UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said in a statement.
The UNODC warned that drug consumption has already been rising at an "alarming" rate over the last decade, and now with the pandemic, it is crucial to pay attention.
It also warned that countries were more likely to reduce drug-related budgets further and to give less priority to anti-trafficking operations and international cooperation in the wake of the pandemic, which could have serious consequences.
On the pandemic impact on unemployment, something that several international organizations have been warning about, according to the report, could also disproportionately affect the poorest, making them more vulnerable to drug use and even to drug trafficking and cultivation to earn money.
"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," UNODC Executive Director said in a statement accompanying the report.
"We need all governments to show greater solidarity and provide support to developing countries most of all, to tackle illicit drug trafficking and offer evidence-based services for drug use disorders and related disease," she said.
Meanwhile, the pandemic comes on the back of a trend of already rising drug use, especially in developing countries, with UNODC finding 269 million people in 2018 had used drugs at least once, up 30 percent from a decade earlier.
"This is a very alarming increase. Not just the increase in the amount of people using drugs, but there are more youths, adolescents, children using drugs," Waly told AFP on Thursday.
The report, which mostly examined data up to early 2019, said the use of cocaine and methamphetamine was rising, with growing methamphetamine markets in Afghanistan and Iraq.