Covid-19 changing illicit drug routes, says UNODC report

Vienna, May 7 (efe-epa).- Measures implemented by governments to curb the Covid-19 pandemic have disrupted drug trafficking routes around the world, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report published on Friday.

The effect has primarily been on air routes but there has also been a drastic reduction in smuggling channels over land, the international organisation said.

“Some drug supply chains have been interrupted and traffickers are looking for alternative routes, including maritime routes, depending on the types of drugs smuggled,” the report added.

This is likely to have a particularly drastic effect on the trafficking of synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine, to countries in southeast Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, the report stated.

Increased border controls have made heroin trafficking more difficult than before the onset of the pandemic, it added.

A recent increase in heroin seizures in the Indian Ocean could be interpreted as indication of a rise in the use of maritime routes for getting the drug into Europe along the “southern route”, the UNODC said.

Reports from Myanmar, which supplies east and southeast Asia, showed a sudden drop in opium prices that suggests buyers are no longer able to reach producing areas, it continued.

Many countries have reported drug shortages at a retail level, with reports of a drop in heroin supplies in Europe, southwest Asia and north America in particular, it added.

“With China having been the first country affected by the virus and related restrictions, its neighbouring and adjacent countries were affected by the situation comparatively early on and the impact on the drug market may be already visible,” the UNODC said.

It added that other factors could have contributed to the drop, including a large-scale international counter-narcotics operation among the Mekong countries.

Central Asia, the centre of the “northern route”, along which opiates are trafficked from Afghanistan to Russia, may also have become riskier for traffickers due to increased border controls, according to the report.

Lockdown restrictions could also hinder the production of opiates as the key harvest months in Afghanistan are March to June.

A labour force might not be able or willing to travel to areas where opium poppy is grown, which could affect this year’s harvest.

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