INCB Annual Report 2020 highlights hidden epidemic of drug use among older people


In its 2020 Annual Report, the International Narcotics Control Board

  • highlights a global hidden epidemic: the use of drugs among older people;
  • addresses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to medicines, prevention and treatment services for people with mental health and substance abuse disorder, and on the illicit drug market;
  • urges governments to apply proportionate responses to drug-related offences based on the rule of law and human rights; 
  • marks the 60th and 50th anniversaries of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances with a special report, stresses need for universal implementation.

South Asia/25 March 2021: At a time of increased demand for controlled medicines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has warned of ‘a hidden epidemic: drug use among older persons’ and the harm the pandemic has caused to the health and well-being of this population group.

In its Annual Report 2020 launched on 25 March, INCB has highlighted that as the world population ages, there is an increased vulnerability to drug use and drug dependence for older people. INCB calls on governments to focus on drug use among older persons and extend and integrate support to help reverse this alarming trend.

Presenting the findings of the report at a virtual event convened by UNODC South Asia, INCB Member Mrs. Jagjit Pavadia expressed concern over the negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global supply chain of medicines. “Increased demand for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 have created further shortages and disrupted treatment and other health-related services. The Report stresses that people with mental health and substance use disorders have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Mobility restrictions and social isolation have imposed greater strain on people and worsened disorders at times.”  

UNODC’s Regional Representative for South Asia, Mr. Sergey Kapinos, called for multi-stakeholder efforts to counter illicit trafficking and address drug use among vulnerable groups. “Trends indicate that traffickers are also finding new routes and methods, and trafficking activities via the darknet and shipments by mail are increasing. It is critical for all governments to provide support to help tackle illicit drug trafficking and offer evidence-based services for drug use disorders and related diseases. This is an imperative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, promote justice and leave no one behind.”

The INCB Annual Report 2020 also expresses concern about the high number of drug overdose deaths–especially related to fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Director General of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau, Mr. Rakesh Asthaana said, “The Government of India has taken a lead role in countering drugs and psychotropic substances. COVID-19 has indeed led to drug trafficking syndicates changing their strategies. We recognize the need for a formal mechanism of cooperation to check maritime trafficking of drugs in the region, which should be through sharing of real-time information.”

"Old age and drug use are now becoming a major issue as the report points out. The reasons behind this are the increasing availability of drugs and changing perceptions on their usage,” said Mr. Balesh Kumar, Director General, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Government of India.

Reflecting on the report, Mr. Muhammed Ahsanul Jabbar, Director General, Department of Narcotics Control (Bangladesh) said, “Combating drug use and countering illicit trafficking require concerted action by all Member States. Regular intelligence sharing and adopting timely policies can help countries address the scourge of drugs.”

Dr. Laknath Welagedara, Chairperson, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (Sri Lanka) express concern about the extent of the global and regional drug problem. “The drug problem should be addressed in a multi-lateral setting with international cooperation. Initiatives have been undertaken in Sri Lanka to strengthen rehabilitation and treatment programs with support of UNODC and other institutions,” he said,

Mr. Abdulla Shareef, Commissioner General of Customs, Maldives Customs Service (Maldives), said, “As seen in global trends, we have observed that the mail service has been highly sought after by drug traffickers, particularly because the borders were closed for most of last year. The majority of drug seizures seized from mail were party drugs, which originated from European countries.”  

Dr Rakesh Kumar Chadda, Chief, National Drug Dependence and Treatment Centre, AIIMS (India), said, “This pandemic has given us a new experience of how to modify services and respond in such emergence situations. During COVID-19, we continued our outpatient services as well as community outreach clinics.”

INCB remains concerned about steps taken by some governments towards legalizing cannabis for non-medical purposes and reiterates the need for States to take measures that limit the production, manufacture and trade of cannabis to medical and scientific purposes.

Watch the proceedings here