Conflict zones are magnets for the production of synthetic drugs – Eurasia Review

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By Aurora Weiss

Nearly 284 million people aged 15-64 used drugs globally in 2020, a 26% increase from the previous decade. Young people are consuming more drugs, with levels of use today in many countries exceeding those of a generation ago, notes the World Drug Report 2022 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). ).

Overall, the report estimates that 11.2 million people worldwide inject drugs. About half of them were living with hepatitis C, 1.4 million with HIV and 1.2 million with both.

UNODC Research Fellow Dr. Thomas Pietschmann of Austria and his team traditionally compile the United Nations World Drug Report. The data they collect provides him with a detailed overview of global patterns: how and where drugs are produced, who are the traffickers and users, where the trafficking networks are, and how drug production and consumption affect the environment.

IDN spoke with Pietschmann. He said there had been an increase in cocaine production and cocaine trafficking in the United States and Western Europe. In addition, there is the continued production of opium. Thus, despite the area, the crop recorded a slight decline. Open production has thus increased.

But this, he said, is interesting: “We could see a massive increase in trafficking activities and seizures in Afghanistan and countries around Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Iran. Then it was more or less stable in Turkey. But when it comes to South Eastern Europe and the Balkans, we might see that decrease. Due to COVID-19, there has been an obvious drop in these activities. In Europe, there was much less traffic and mobility due to the restrictions caused by COVID,” explains the UNODC research fellow.

Dr. Pietschmann added that synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamine, have increased dramatically, especially in North America, Southeast and Southwest Asia.

In the two largest methamphetamine markets, seizures have increased. They increased by 7% in North America compared to the previous year. In contrast, Southeast Asia grew by 30% year-on-year, records in both regions. A record high was also reported for methamphetamine seizures in Southwest Asia, up 50% in 2020 compared to 2019. Large inequalities remain in the availability of pharmaceutical opioids for medical use. In 2020, there were 7,500 more doses per 1 million people of controlled painkillers in North America than in West and Central Africa.

Cocaine manufacture hit a record high in 2020, increasing 11% from 2019 to 1,982 tons. Cocaine seizures have also increased, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a record high of 1,424 tons in 2020. Nearly 90% of the cocaine seized worldwide in 2021 was transported by container and by sea. Seizure data suggests cocaine trafficking is expanding to other regions outside of the main markets in North America and Europe, with increased levels of trafficking to Africa and Asia.

Methamphetamine trafficking continues to expand geographically, with 117 countries reporting methamphetamine seizures in 2016-2020 compared to 84 in 2006-2010. At the same time, the quantities of methamphetamine seized increased fivefold between 2010 and 2020.

According to the UNODC researcher, an interesting phenomenon is that traffic does not usually flow as directly as one might expect. It also goes indirectly to Europe. It is exported from Lebanon, for example, to Italy, Greece, France and even Austria. And then let’s come back to the Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, underlines Dr. Pietschmann.

Global opium production increased by 7% between 2020 and 2021 to reach 7,930 tons, mainly due to increased production in Afghanistan. However, the global area under opium poppy cultivation fell by 16% to 246,800 ha during the same period.

In many countries in Africa and South and Central America, the largest proportion of people in treatment for drug use disorders are there primarily for cannabis use disorders. In Eastern and Southeastern Europe and Central Asia, people are most commonly treated for opioid use disorders.

In the United States, preliminary estimates point to more than 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, up from nearly 92,000 in 2020.

Conflict zones are magnets for the production of synthetic drugs.

This year’s report also highlights that illicit drug economies can thrive in conflict situations and where the rule of law is weak, which can prolong or fuel conflict. Information from the Middle East and Southeast Asia suggests that conflict situations can act as a magnet for the manufacture of synthetic drugs, which can be produced anywhere. This effect may be greater when the conflict zone is close to large consumer markets.

“We have seen cases like this on Afghan models with the Taliban, Colombia and the FARC, Peru and the Shining Path, the civil war in Syria and the ethnic conflict in Myanmar,” adds the research office of UNODC. For example, primarily in Syria and Myanmar, we learned that conflict attracts criminal activity, especially when it comes to synthetic drugs. What happened in Myanmar: the production of methamphetamine and exports to neighboring countries, recalls Dr. Pietschmann.

Historically, parties to conflict have used drugs to fund conflict and generate revenue. The World Drug Report 2022 also reveals that conflict can disrupt and alter drug trafficking routes, as has happened in the Balkans and, more recently, in Ukraine.

An excellent example from the past is the war in Yugoslavia. Trade routes were replaced with Bulgaria and Romania. When peace returned, the route returned and the Western Balkans became one of the main routes again, points out Dr Pietschmann, a research fellow at UNODC.

There has been a significant increase in the number of clandestine labs reported in Ukraine, from 17 labs dismantled in 2019 to 79 in 2020. Sixty-seven of these labs produced amphetamines, up from five in 2019 – the highest number of labs dismantled reported in a given country in 2020.

The environmental impacts of drug markets

According to the World Drug Report 2022, illicit drug markets can have environmental impacts at the local, community or individual level. A key finding is that the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis is on average between 16 and 100 times greater than that of outdoor cannabis, and that the footprint of one kilogram of cocaine is 30 times greater than that of cocoa beans.

Other environmental impacts include the substantial deforestation associated with the illicit cultivation of coca, the waste generated during the manufacture of synthetic drugs which can be 5 to 30 times the volume of the final product, and the dumping of waste which can directly affect the soil, water and air, as well as organisms, animals and the food chain indirectly.

Women remain a minority among drug users worldwide, but tend to increase their rate of drug use and progress to drug use disorders more rapidly than men. Women now make up approximately 45-49% of amphetamine users and non-medical users of pharmaceutical stimulants, opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers.

The gender pay gap remains significant for women around the world. Although women account for nearly one in two amphetamine users, they constitute only one in five people in treatment for amphetamine use disorders. The World Drug Report 2022 also highlights the wide range of women’s roles in the global cocaine economy, including growing coca, transporting small quantities of drugs, selling to consumers and smuggling into the jails.


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