The novel coronavirus pandemic is disrupting the illicit
drug trade through increased border controls, reduced air traffic and supply
shortages, though the outbreak’s economic fallout may lead to more people
getting involved in the business, a United Nations-sponsored report warned.
The upcoming opium harvest in Afghanistan may be hurt by
virus-related labour shortages, and cocaine output in Colombia has been hit by
a lack of gasoline, while production of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been
slowed by shortages of precursor chemicals from Southeast Asia. The report
added that lockdowns in Europe may trigger an increase in demand for marijuana
that can likely be serviced by more local production.
“Mobility restrictions, closed borders and a decline in
overall world trade can disrupt the supply chains of drug markets and may
diversify drug trafficking patterns and routes,” the report said. “Sudden
changes in the supply and availability of drugs can in turn trigger changes in
The disruptions vary depending on the type of drug and the
geography of the production and traffic routes, said the report by the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime. The 37-page document is based on data from
government, open sources – including the media – and UNDOC field offices.
Trafficking has seen less disruption in areas with fewer
virus-control measures such as the Middle East and the Balkans, the report
The fallout from the virus will also potentially have
long-term effects. The disruption to trafficking may lead to stockpiling of
drugs along supply chains, the report added. That could create an increase in
supply once restrictions are eased, and could flood markets with cheap, very
pure drugs, risking an uptick in overdoses.
And the economic hardship caused by Covid-19 may also
produce additional burdens on the disadvantaged that could lead to more people
entering the drug trade, the report said.
The disruptions are also prompting drug dealers to change
strategies, and there is evidence that some are resorting to sea routes, with
air transport limited and border patrols more onerous.
Traffickers are also exploiting the coronavirus fallout to
enhance their social standing by providing assistance to local populations.
They also may be diversifying into virus-related cybercrime and distributing
fake medicine, the report warned.
“There are indications that drug trafficking groups are
adapting their strategies in order to continue their operations, and that some
have started to exploit the situation so as to enhance their image among the
population by providing services, in particular to the vulnerable,” the