Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


64th CND side event on the COVID-19 pandemic and its influence on the world drug problem: new challenges and prospects

  12 April 2021


Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to join you for this virtual side event. My thanks to the Russian Federation for organizing this timely discussion, which follows on today’s adoption of a CND statement on the impact of the pandemic on the implementation of Member States’ commitments to address and counter the world drug problem.

COVID-19 has changed our world, causing immense tragedy and loss of life. The global pandemic has also shifted drug markets, patterns of use and trafficking trends, further threatening health, safety, security and development. It will take collective, concerted efforts by all Member States to address these challenges effectively.

As the CND statement acknowledges, the pandemic, by putting health systems under severe strain, has also had a negative impact on drug treatment and health service capacities.

According to a rapid assessment conducted by WHO, at least one intervention or service related to drug use was partially or completely disrupted in 65 per cent of countries.

Furthermore, countries have faced difficulties with ensuring access to, and availability of, internationally controlled substances for pain relief and other medical and scientific purposes.

Illicit drug use patterns have also shifted as virus-related restrictions limited social and recreational activities, which in turn reduced the use of drugs such as MDMA, LSD and cocaine. At the same time, many countries have observed an increase in the use of cannabis and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs.

Broadly speaking, illicit drug markets have proved largely resilient even in the unprecedented conditions brought about by the global pandemic.

UNODC research has found that after suffering initial disruptions early on in the crisis, organized crime groups adjusted their operations with agility and speed. By the end of last year, drug trafficking appeared to be continuing in line with pre-pandemic trends, or even at an increased pace.

The pandemic also served to accelerate existing market developments. Trafficking of drugs online and through use of maritime and waterway routes were on the rise, and these trends were further reinforced as the crisis restricted movement as well as overland and air travel.

Moreover, in 2020, the average size of intercepted shipments further increased and several record seizures were made during the pandemic. For example, in November last year, more than 11 tons of cocaine were seized from one container at a European port.

To respond to these developments, UNODC has tailored support to Member States since the start of the pandemic.

We issued a research brief on the impact of COVID-19 on the global drug supply chain last May, and our Office has continued to deliver technical assistance to promote evidence-based demand reduction and treatment, while helping to strengthen law enforcement responses, including to tackle cybercrime, as well as maritime crime and drug trafficking on the high seas.

Work has continued on the coca and opium cultivation surveys, we published our flagship World Drug Report last June, and we are currently engaged in producing the 2021 report, which will also address the pandemic’s effects on drug trafficking, production and use.

We continue to monitor drug market dynamics, thanks also to the efforts of many Member States that responded to our call for up-to-date information on the impact of COVID on the drug problem.

This research remains relevant and very much needed. We have not seen the end of the COVID-19 crisis, and we will be dealing with its consequences for many years to come.

The pandemic has reversed progress in reducing poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The situation has left more people vulnerable to threats of drugs and crime, and we must offer greater support to maintain and expand prevention, treatment and other services, to reach the people who need it.

Organized criminal groups are sure to take advantage of social and economic fragility to expand their activities, including drug trafficking.

As we have seen throughout the pandemic, criminal groups have anticipated and adapted to changing circumstances, and exploited opportunities. Our efforts to counter drug threats and address challenges must also adapt and innovate.

In this context I very much welcome today’s discussion, which brings together distinguished experts from all regions.

The world drug problem and the virus are shared challenges that have manifested themselves in diverse ways in different parts of the world, and this is an opportunity to discuss shared solutions.

As the CND statement emphasizes, in seeking to respond to pandemic-related challenges, countries have met adversity by developing new and innovative approaches to drug prevention and treatment, as well as to related health and social services. 

These achievements include the expansion of telemedicine and other remote services, which represent modernizations that can continue to benefit people in need, even after distancing and movement restrictions are no longer in place.

We can keep building on these innovations, including by sharing best practices, and further enhancing cooperation between public health and law enforcement to promote balanced, evidence-based responses. 

I hope this session of the CND and this special event will serve to advance these efforts, and ensure that no one affected by the world drug problem is left behind as we build forward from the pandemic. UNODC is proud to support you and is here to help you.

Thank you, and I wish you fruitful discussions.