Better Knowledge for Better Care: Joint presentation on World Drug Report by UNODC ROCA and CARICC

On 7 July 2020 UNODC Regional Office for Central Asia (ROCA) conducted a webinar on World Drug Report jointly with the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC). It was moderated by Mr. Naweed Riaz, Head of UNODC Programme Office in Kazakhstan.

UNODC released annual World Drug Report, which provides a global overview of the supply and demand of opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impact on health, taking into account the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights, through improved research and more precise data, that the adverse health consequences of drug use are more widespread than previously thought.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Ashita Mittal, UNODC Regional Representative to Central Asia, underlined that “this year the theme of the World Drug Day “Better Knowledge for Better Care” highlights the need to understand drug dynamics trapping millions of people in a downward spiral, to inform balanced solutions that are based on scientific evidence, to know better what the issues are and to provide better care for those who need it.”

In his welcoming speech, Mr. Yuriy Chikalov, CARICC Deputy Director, pointed out that “the law enforcement agencies of the member states of CARICC continue to resist transnational organized drug crime under the most demanding conditions of the fight against the coronavirus infection, and CARICC, in its turn, continues to assist the competent authorities in these complex circumstances.”

Mr. Riaz, in his presentation of the World Drug Report, explained the factors favouring the expansion of the world drug market, such as population growth, urbanization and income. Drug use around the world has been on the rise, in terms of both overall numbers and the proportion of the world’s population that uses drugs. In 2009, the estimated 210 million users represented 4.8 per cent of the global population aged 15‒64, compared with the estimated 269 million users in 2018, or 5.3 per cent of the population. Drug use is higher in urban areas than in rural areas, in both developed and developing countries. The mass movement of people from the countryside to towns and cities partially explains the overall rise in drug use. Worldwide, drug use is more widespread in developed countries than in developing countries.

According to the report, 35.6 million people suffer from drug use disorders globally. Approximately 269 million people used drugs in 2018. That is 30 per cent more than in 2009. Illicit drugs, including opiates and pharmaceutical opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine, are still more available, diverse and potent than before, challenging law enforcement, posing greater health risks and complicating efforts to prevent and treat drug use disorders. Cannabis is the most used substance, and opioids are the most harmful. An estimated 192 million people used cannabis in 2018, making it the most used drug globally.

Adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of those using drugs. Half of the 11 million people who inject drugs are living with hepatitis C, and 1.4 million – with HIV. Only one out of eight people, who need drug-related treatment, receives it. Women, people in prison settings, minorities, immigrants and displaced people face barriers to treatment due to discrimination and stigma. 585,000 died in 2017 in relation to drug use, which is 25 percent higher than in 2008.

In respect to Central Asia, the official data of treatment centers for 2019 shows that the number of opiate users (heroin and opium users) is the largest (19.3 thousand). Cannabis users (14.4 thousand) rank the second, and polydrug users (5.9 thousand) rank the third. About two thousand people use other types of drugs.

Mr. Riaz further mentioned that trafficking in heroin via Central Asia (Northern Route) declined over the past decade, from 10% in 2008 to 1% 2018, while as elsewhere, markets for amphetamine-type stimulants show signs of continued expansion. With regard to the impact of COVID-19 on the drug supply chain, he pointed out that restrictions resulting from the lockdown could hinder the production and sale of opiates in major producing countries; measures are impeding cocaine production in the short term, but a resurgence is likely in the event of an economic crisis; reduced trade is limiting the availability of precursors for synthetic drugs in some regions. Drug shortages have been reported and could have negative health consequences for people with drug use disorders; drug use disorders and regular drug use can lead to complications and mortality if users become infected with COVID-19; economic difficulties caused by COVID-19 could change drug consumption for the worse.

Mr. Yusuf Kurbonov, UNODC International Coordinator, provided information on capacity building initiatives for the officers of the border checkpoints, transborder cooperation, inter-agency mobile teams and control strengthening measures on the border with Afghanistan that have been implemented within UNODC Transborder Cooperation Programme. Mr. Kurbonov mentioned that in the first half of 2019 the inter-agency mobile teams seized 160 kg of opium, 15 kg of heroin, and 5.4 kg of hashish. He has also presented the data proving the growth of the ATS market in Central Asia as elsewhere in the world. At the end of his presentation, Mr. Kurbonov expanded on new initiatives of the transborder cooperation programme, such as support in the establishment of situation centers and development of communication networks for the border control agencies, regional level information exchange based on the CENComm Platform, creation of the border cooperation offices at the Uzbek-Tajik, Kazakh-Kyrgyz and Turkmen-Uzbek border checkpoints.

Overall, there were around 90 webinar participants, representatives of the national counterparts across Central Asia, diplomatic missions, international organizations, CARICC and UNODC. Parties agreed that UNODC together with CARICC, and in close partnership with national counterparts, will continue to assist governments in the region in countering drug trafficking and transnational organized crime as well as its impact on health and well-being of society.