Ukraine war could increase production of illegal drugs, says UN
The United Nations issued a warning on Monday that the Russia-Ukraine war could enable illicit drug manufacturing to thrive, while noting the future of the opium market is dependent on the situation in Afghanistan. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) annual report stated conflict zones can serve as a "magnet" for the manufacturing of synthetic drugs, which can be produced anywhere.
- A similar pattern of illegal drug production was also evident from earlier experiences in conflict-ridden regions of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
- The report suggested drug smuggling in Ukraine decreased since early 2022 but noted that conflict could shift and disrupt trafficking routes.
- The UNODC report was developed using data from member states, internal sources, institutional report analyses, media coverage, and open-source data.
According to the UNODC, the number of demolished amphetamine Ukrainian laboratories increased from 17 in 2019 to 79 in 2020, making it the country with the highest number of such seized laboratories in 2020. "This effect may be greater when the conflict area is near large consumer markets," it stated. As the war continues, Ukraine's capacity to make synthetic drugs could increase, it added.
"You don't have police going around and stopping laboratories (in conflict zones)," UNODC expert Angela Me told AFP. Moreover, the report found that 284 million people—or one in every 18 people—in the world between the ages of 15 and 64 used drugs in 2021. The figure was 26% higher than it was in 2010, with growth in the population partially accounting for the increase.
According to the report, the situation in Afghanistan, which accounted for 86% of the world's opium production in 2021, will shape the growth of the opiate market. It claimed that Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis could encourage illicit opium poppy cultivation, despite the Taliban's ban on the practice in April. "Changes in opium production in Afghanistan will have implications for opiate markets (worldwide)," the UN stated.
Cannabis has long been the world's most widely used and relatively safe drug, the use of which is now increasing due to its gradual legalization worldwide. Several US states—beginning with Washington and Colorado in 2012—and countries, including Uruguay (2013) and Canada (2018), have legalized cannabis's non-medical use. "Cannabis legalization appears to have accelerated...upward trends in reported daily use of the drug," the UNODC stated.
"Periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic drove increases in the use of cannabis...in 2020," the UNODC said. While the frequency of cannabis usage among adolescents hasn't "changed much," there's a marked increase in the "frequent use of high-potency products among young adults," it added.
Cocaine production reached a new high in 2020 at 1,982 tons and its sea trafficking is on the rise, with 2021 seizure data indicating an expansion beyond the major markets of Europe and North America into Asia and Africa. Meanwhile, methamphetamine was no longer an issue only in Far East and South East Asia but also in Afghanistan and Mexico, the UNODC earlier highlighted.
Despite the fact that men consumed the majority of drugs, UNODC expert Me claimed women were underrepresented in treatment and they heavily used stimulants like amphetamine. "For them, it's a double stigma. Going there is also to expose themselves," she said. "We have put [in] a recommendation on safety and how to ensure that the centers have the possibility to welcome children," Me added.