Statement of Ms. Ashita Mittal,
Regional Representative for Central Asia

Press-conference devoted to International Day
against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

26 June 2020, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 

Mr. Narzullaev, Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to participate in the drugs burning ceremony to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, also known as 'World Drug Day'.

Illicit drug trafficking continues to pose a serious threat to peace and security in the world, going hand in hand with other forms of transnational organized crime, including precursor diversion and trafficking, money laundering and corruption, and facilitating the spread of terrorism and its financing.

The world drug problem is a shared one and no country can stand alone in this fight. The importance of cooperation and joint efforts is stressed by extremely high figures of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which reached record levels in recent years.

Addressing the world drug problem requires responses that are based on facts, solidarity and compassion. The theme of this year’s 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.

Today, UNODC at global level launches the World Drug Report 2020 aimed at improving the understanding of the world drug problem and fostering greater international cooperation for countering its impact on health, governance and security. According to the Report, some 35.6 million people suffer from drug use disorders globally. Around 269 million people used drugs in 2018, 30 per cent more than in 2009. Illicit drugs, including opiates and pharmaceutical opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine, are still more available, more diverse and more potent than before, challenging law enforcement, posing greater health risks and complicating efforts to prevent and treat drug use disorders.

Adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of those using drugs. Of the 11 million people who inject drugs, half of them are living with hepatitis C, and 1.4 million with HIV.

Only one out of eight people, who need drug-related treatment, receive 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, up one-quarter from 2008. Over the past decade, the total number of deaths due to opioid use disorders went up 71 percent, with a 92 percent increase among women compared with 63 percent among men.

All over the world, we see that 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.

The COVID-19 crisis has intensified these challenges further still, overwhelming health systems and exposing the fragility of institutions and social safety nets. The pandemic has created a new environment in drug trafficking, traffickers are exploring new routes and methods, including the darknet and shipments by mail.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is our joint shared responsibility to ensure that Central Asia remains safe from illicit drugs and organized crime. The only way forward is to foster greater international, cross-border and inter-agency cooperation for achieving our shared vision to strengthen security, health and sustainable development, to guarantee safe and secure lives, prosperity of people, and especially the youth, who constitute more than half of the population of Central Asia.

Last year, 15,661 kg of different drugs were seized in Central Asia, including 1,418 kg of heroin and 1,017 kg of opium. Unfortunately, all countries in the region are reporting about the increasing emergence of new psychoactive substances, including pharmaceuticals and synthetic drugs. The increasing misuse of psychoactive substances illustrates the difficulties faced by countries in balancing necessary access for medical purposes while curbing abuse. At the same time, the purchase of the illicit drugs online, including via the darknet is also on the rise, posing growing challenges. The proportion of the internet users, who purchased drugs via Darknet grew from 5% in 2014 to 11% in 2019 at the global level.

In the past few years, we have seen greater regional cooperation that is leading to not only developing trade and transit corridors necessary for the much-needed economic growth for the region but also opened an environment for sharing and mutual cooperation for addressing the security related issues. At the same time, transnational criminal groups also seek to exploit increasing integration, new infrastructure and networks, for their nefarious purposes. It is also our duty to address these potential vulnerabilities.

I would like to thank the Government of Uzbekistan for the leading role in promoting international peace and security at the global level, as well as the support to advancing UNODC’s agenda on countering illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and preventing terrorism. In 2019, Uzbekistan hosted several high-level events dedicated to strengthening regional cooperation in countering illicit trafficking, including the 11th Review Meeting of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on sub-regional drug control cooperation, 54th session of the Sub commission on Illicit Drug Traffic and Related Matters in the Near and Middle East, and the Sixth Annual Inter-Regional Meeting of Customs Authorities and Port Control Units within the framework of the Global Container Control Programme, which led to the establishment of the Inter-Regional Network of Customs Authorities and Port Control Units of Central Asian countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Black Sea Region.

In close cooperation with the Government of Uzbekistan, and with the generous support from the donors, UNODC has been successfully implementing a wide range of initiatives, addressing both the supply and demand dimensions of drugs. For the fist time in Central Asia, the Interagency Mobile Teams (IMT) were established in six locations of Uzbekistan, which created a new platform to cooperate and coordinate activities from operative level to strategic planning and analysis. We are planning to increase the IMTs locations to 13 to cover all regions of Uzbekistan, but also incorporate elements of anti-money laundering, countering illicit flows and the financing of terrorism.

Uzbekistan is an active party to UNODC’s regional cross-border cooperation initiatives, which establish a new system to countering narcotics by means of enhancing the capacity of the border crossing points, establishing Border Liaison Offices as well as further strengthening Port Control Units through the UNODC-WCO Container Control Program.

In partnership with the Government of Uzbekistan and civil society organizations, we effectively apply health-centred, rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to drug use prevention and treatment, to promote healthy lifestyles, especially among youth, and deliver better public healthcare.

I would also like to highlight the enhancing partnership with law enforcement, financial intelligence units and the commercial banks on countering drug trafficking related illicit financial flows, money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.

All these initiatives contribute to the progress towards the 2030 Agenda and highlight the important role of Uzbekistan in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I appreciate the Government of Uzbekistan for supporting the UN 75 initiative, which is designed to encourage dialogue on how we can build a better world, despite many challenges we face. The first Global Discussions on a theme "Uzbekistan and the UN: Cooperation for Achieving the SDGs" are scheduled to take place this evening.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the COVID-19 recovery, we need all countries to act on their commitments, and show shared responsibility to tackle illicit drug supply and reduce demand. We need civil society and youth organizations to continue their efforts to support the vulnerable in their communities. This work is especially important here in Central Asia, which is at the forefront of the fight against the illicit flow of drugs and psychoactive substances.

UNODC, with its broad mandates in addressing drugs and transnational organized crime, and many years of experience in providing capacity building across the wide spectrum of criminal justice issues, is well-placed to support governments in these efforts. Together, we can pursue more effective prevention and protection, to build resilience as we build back better, and leave no one behind.

In line with the theme “Better Knowledge for Better Care”, yesterday we presented the UNODC research briefs on impact of the COVID-19 on drug supply chain and drug use, which provide analysis of how the pandemic impacts the production, trafficking and use of drugs, and policy implications. We have also launched a survey on impact of the pandemic on drug scene in Central Asia.

We will also make a presentation of the World Drug Report 2020 and invite our partners to attend the event. The details will be shared accordingly.  

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to our partners and donors for their continued engagement and support. We look forward to further enhancing our partnerships to make the region safer from drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism.