South Asia is situated in the neighbourhood of one of the major opium-cultivating regions in the world and sandwiched between two of the world's largest heroin producing areas: the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle. Illicit heroin produced in these regions is smuggled into and through South Asia. According to the latest UNODC survey, Afghanistan is the world's largest illicit opium-producing country, accounting for more than 90 percent of global output. This has increased the availability and use of illicitly produced opiates in South Asia.For many years, drug trafficking in South Asia has been the most lucrative form of business for criminals. Drug markets have evolved, and the region is now witnessing challenges such as bulk trafficking in heroin, rise in methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking, diversion of controlled substances from licit to illicit channels, smuggling of pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotic and psychotropic substances, and inadequate coordination between various drug enforcement agencies in the region. A recent phenomenon in the region is the rise of trafficking and abuse of ATS and setting up of clandestine laboratories. The challenge in containing precursors is that they are used both for legitimate and illegal purposes. The objective of precursor control is to maintain a balance between preventing diversion of precursors for illicit manufacture of drugs and not affecting legitimate trade. 


In South Asia, opiates remain a highly problematic group of drugs, which when overdosed, often leads to death among injecting drug users. Recent trends point to an increased use of amphetamine-type synthetic drugs, as well as of prescription drugs, including codeine-based cough syrups, painkillers and tranquilizers. The combined use of different substances has grave consequences for the users, which service providers and health systems are neither prepared, nor equipped to deal with. Dismantling trafficking networks within the region requires strong and efficient drug law enforcement strategies, including enhanced inter-agency cooperation within a country as well as with agencies across borders and regions. While governments have ratified the 3 UN Drug Control Conventions and established domestic legal and regulatory regimes to control drug supply, capacities to effectively apply them are uneven. 

Countries, particularly near illicit drug producing areas, need to implement well-structured comprehensive precursor control strategies that deny traffickers access to the chemicals they require to produce illicit drugs. In order to achieve this, the Governments need to have adequate legislations in line with the UN Conventions. The related UN Conventions are, the   Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961,  the   Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971  and the   Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988.



Substance abuse refers  to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome - a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use. Typically these include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.

 Recent trends indicate that synthetic drugs are now replacing the natural and semi-synthetic drugs that have been abused over decades. The emergence of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) have posed a difficult challenge for governments as well as law enforcement agencies in the region. The information on the NPS trafficking and its abuse patterns and trends is very limited and not widely available to the policy makers for taking informed policy decisions.

Precursor control has intensified the problem further. The term 'precursor chemicals' refers to chemicals that are essential to manufacture drugs and are incorporated at molecular level into a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. Precursors are legally produced chemicals which are legitimately used in industries and research. However, drug trackers divert them from legitimate trade and use them to produce illicit drugs.

In view of globally changing drug markets and drug use patterns, there is a dire need to tailor governmental responses to the new emerging scenarios. Initiatives such as outreach, outpatient drug dependence treatment interventions and residential services for persons affected by drug dependence, are essential to address the health consequences of drug use.

Families too have the potential to act as a major protective force in the lives of children and adolescents. Healthy, stable and mutually supportive family relationships are essential to the healthy development of children and the prevention of adolescent problems. Families that lack security and warmth in parent-child relationship can cause their children to face a greater risk of behavioural problems and subsequent substance abuse.


UNODC assists countries in South Asia to frame legislation, rules and regulations on precursor chemical control. It is committed to assist countries of the region to assess their licit requirements of precursor chemicals and maintain a database for the purpose. Emphasis is laid on building capacities of law enforcement agencies to enable them to detect and prevent diversions of precursors from licit trade as well as through smuggling. They are also trained to conduct follow up investigations to identify sources and apprehend traffickers.

The objective is to create an institutional training and consultation capacity in the region on drug law enforcement and to improve the knowledge, awareness, cooperation and results in the field of drug control and organized crime. 

The four priority areas of UNODC's work on drug treatment and rehabilitation include: 

• Community based treatment 
• Drug dependence treatment and rehabilitation in prison settings 
• Role of drug dependence treatment and rehabilitation on HIV and AIDS prevention and care 
• Sustainable livelihoods for reintegration and rehabilitation

Over the last few years, UNODC has been working with Governments and civil society organizations on a broad range of areas, including research, evidence generation, quality assurance, advocacy and policy advice, pioneering of Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST), capacity building and training of service providers in the field of drug treatment and HIV prevention, placing emphasis on emerging issues, such as overdose management and targeting the hard-to reach drug-using populations, such as women. UNODC also supports Governments to undertake studies and assessments on the extent, patterns and trends of drug use. These help identify gaps in services and develop responses to strengthen services in line with international standards, allowing to meet current and emerging needs.

UNODC's work on drug treatment and rehabilitation is guided by the following:

1. Raise the awareness of policy makers with respect to the need and advantages of investing in drug abuse treatment 
2. Support national authorities in developing legislation, policies, and standards of care which enable the implementation of contemporary treatment approaches 
3. Strengthen the capacity of staff and care providers of treatment and rehabilitation centres 
4. Diversify and expand services for drug users and make them more accessible to different population groups, taking into account different gender needs, 
5. Facilitate sharing of best practices and dissemination of knowledge 
6. Upscale drug treatment and rehabilitation services available

HIV transmission through injecting drug use is best prevented by providing a comprehensive package of services in outreach to injecting drug users and their partners. UNAIDS, UNODC and WHO recommend a comprehensive set of measures for people who use drugs that includes the following:

• needle and syringe programmes 
• opioid substitution therapy 
• voluntary HIV counselling and testing 
• anti-retroviral therapy 
• prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections 
• condom programming 
• targeted information, education and communication 
• hepatitis diagnosis, treatment and vaccination 
• tuberculosis prevention, diagnosis and treatment

Regional Platform for criminal intelligence/ information sharing

UNODC, in consultation with the Governments of South Asian Member States, has envisioned the creation of a regional mechanism for sharing information and criminal intelligence to effectively counter drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime. The mechanism, named "South Asian Regional Intelligence and Coordination Centre on Transnational Organized Crime" (SARICC-TOC), seeks to facilitate criminal intelligence collection and analysis, coordination of operational activities of the law enforcement agencies, as well as to act as a knowledge sharing platform on strengthening security in the region. 

Special Packages: Treatnet and Family Skills

Evidence-based parenting skills and family skills training programmes have been found to be a highly effective way to prevent substance use among children and adolescents. These programmes offer skill-building for parents on monitoring and supervision of children's activities, communication as well as setting age-appropriate limits. These programmes improve family functioning, organization, communication and interpersonal relationships. They  have been found to yield multiple positive outcomes for children and adolescents including decreased drug use, decreased child depression and aggression, and decreased family conflicts, as well as increased child attachment to school and increased child social competence and pro-social behaviour. The UNODC Treatnet Training Package is a unique tool to enhance the level of knowledge and skills of professionals working in the field of substance use disorders. While Treatnet Volume A focuses on screening, brief intervention, assessment and treatment planning, Volume B deals with elements of psychosocial treatment.

Container Control Programme

The use of maritime transportation by trackers has been identified as a key emerging threat. Addressing this area of concern, UNODC has been working closely with the World Customs Organization (WCO) to develop and implement the Container Control Programme. The Programme assists Governments to create sustainable enforcement structures at sea ports in order to minimize the risk of shipping containers being exploited for illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other forms of illicit activities.

In South Asia, the Container Control Programme works closely with all participating Governments of the region . It has already established Port Control Units (PCUs) at Male, Maldives and Colombo, Sri Lanka. These PCUs comprise customs and other relevant law enforcement officers, who undertake the systematic profiling and inspection of high risk containers. The Container Control Programme actively supports the formation of alliances, cooperation and information exchange between customs, trade and enforcement communities as a means to prevent the abuse of legitimate commercial trade for the purposes of organized crime.

Air Cargo Units

As an extension of the Container Control Programme in South Asia, Air Cargo Control Units (ACCUs) in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been set-up to encourage better collaboration among national agencies and curb illicit trading.  

Joint UN Response: UBRAF

The Unified Budget, Results and Accountability Framework (UBRAF) is  a UNAIDS instrument to maximize the coherence, coordination and impact of the UN's joint response to AIDS. Under UBRAF, UNODC  has been providing technical support on Opioid Substitution Treatment in Gujarat and tailored HIV services for key populations of people who inject drugs(PWID) and prisoners in the state. UNODC also aims to carry out a study on prevalence of HIV/TB and other blood borne viruses and related behavioural risk in two central prisons of Gujarat, in partnership with the Gujarat State AIDS Control Society and the Gujarat Prisons department. The assessment will enable evidence-based interventions and programming for HIV comprehensive package of services including management of IDUs in prison settings. 

Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST)

Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) is a universally accepted treatment option for Opioid dependent persons. It involves the administration of an Opioid medication orally or sublingually, under medical supervision. The comprehensive treatment coupled with psychosocial support helps the drug user reduce and stop injecting, overcome withdrawal, control craving and reduce or wean off the Opioid.

UNODC has developed toolkits for service providers working on OST.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment

UNODC in partnership with National Governments piloted Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) in Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Nepal. MMT has helped hundreds of patients dependent on opioids, reduce their risk of contracting and transmitting HIV and other blood-borne viruses and improve their overall well-being by stabilizing them physically and emotionally. Many drug users have been able to reintegrate into their families and get back to normal life and work after enrolling in the MMT programme. A total of 12 MMT centres have been set up in the region with the support of UNODC.

Managing Drug Overdose

UNODC is training health care providers and community workers on overdose prevention and treatment globally. The trainings focus on the causes, risk factors, signs and symptoms of an overdose. In Bhutan, the training was conducted in collaboration with the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency, Royal Government of Bhutan. A similar training was conducted in Sri Lanka in collaboration with the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Government of Sri Lanka.

UNODC in collaboration with national Governments is also conducting studies on 'Issues affecting overdose prevention and treatment' in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Reaching out to women drug users

Women are affected by drug use both as users and partners of men who use drugs. Women who use drugs are more exposed to stigma and discrimination than men. As a result, they are more hidden and harder-to-reach. There are very few women-specific treatment centres available. They are often not in a position to negotiate safe injecting or safe sex and are therefore vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies, as well as HIV infection for both themselves and their unborn baby. Working with women drug users forms an important part of UNODC's work.

In Nepal, UNODC has been pioneering interventions including advocacy, capacity building and services to address the risk of HIV amongst women who use drugs. Working closely with the Government, UNODC has conducted research studies, compiled a good practice guide, developed training materials and imparted training to service providers working with women and reached out to a number of women drug users with essential services like the needle-syringe programme and distribution of condoms.

Computer Based Training (CBT)

As part of its work on building capacities of law enforcement officials to counter drug tracking, UNODC introduced a new training tool based on e-learning and computer-based training, reaching out to a much larger number of trainees than under traditional classroom training. UNODC has set up  39 computer based training (CBT) centres for a variety of law enforcement agencies in South Asia, including drug law enforcement agencies. 

The CBT comprehensively covers all aspects of drug law enforcement such as drug identification and testing, search techniques, interdiction techniques, intelligence gathering, precursor chemicals and money laundering. CBT has proven highly attractive to law enforcement officials in the region and UNODC is constantly looking at expanding its outreach and including new content into the programme.


For more details, please connect with us on:

Bangladesh: Mr. Shah Mohammad Naheean, shah.naheeaan[at] | Mr. Abu Taher, md.taher[at[  

Bhutan: Ms. Tandin Wangmo, tandin.wangmo[at]

India/Regional:  Mr. Jayant Misra, jayant.misra[at] | Ms. Seema Arya, seema.arya[at]

Maldives: Mr. Enrico Bonisegna, enrico.bonisegna[at]

Nepal: Ms. Reena Pathak, reena.pathak[at]

Sri Lanka: Ms. Anusha Munasinghe, anusha.munasinghe[at]

Communications/Partnerships: Mr. Samarth Pathak, samarth.pathak[at]