According to the 2021 World Drug Report, around 275 million used drugs in the past year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders worldwide. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought to the forefront a concurrent substance and drug addiction epidemic that needs to be addressed. The unintended effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made battling addiction even more challenging.
The World Drug Report (2021) notes that as a result of COVID-19, traffickers have found “new routes and methods, and trafficking activities via the darknet and shipments by mail may increase, despite the international postal supply chain being disrupted.” This stands as testimony to the resilience and adaptability of traffickers and the drug market. With the supply of drugs not being seriously impacted by the pandemic, its demand grew exponentially. Research has shown that since the onset of the pandemic, many have turned to drugs and alcohol use as a method of coping with the effects of the pandemic. The report ( UNODC, 2021) reiterates that the pandemic has increased and worsened inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions among vulnerable populations, which propelled more people into using drugs. This lack of opportunity “means that illicit drug crop cultivation and drug trafficking will have a stronger financial appeal, while drug use will remain closely intertwined with the legacy of the mental health crisis brought on by the pandemic” (United Nations, 2021). Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 situation has left many feeling anxious, lonely, and depressed as job losses escalated and the death toll rose. In addition, COVID-19 has exacerbated the health outcomes and chances of recovery for patients with substance use disorders, further placing them in a vulnerable position. According to the CDC (2021), persons with substance use disorder are “ more likely to get severely ill” as they “may also have underlying medical conditions that put them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
Although drug abuse has long been stigmatized and criminalized, it is considered a serious global health problem. The United Nations recognizes the role that narcotic drugs and substance use poses in achieving the global development agenda and prioritizes efforts under health target 3.5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Target 3.5 of the SDG strives to increase defenses against drugs by strengthening prevention and treatment strategies. At the crux, the United Nations (2021) underscores the importance of international cooperation in tackling a drug market that is more globalized than ever.
This year, as we commemorate International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, it is crucial that we focus on strengthening response efforts in an attempt to create a world free of drug abuse. As we continue the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront, we need to ensure the continuity of prevention and treatment services for the most vulnerable in society. Therefore, in this crisis period, we must make the necessary provisions to “address drug challenges and their root causes with science and solidarity, to leave no one behind” (United Nations, 2021).
The Addiction Training for Health Professionals Program at the Frank Foundation recognizes that substance use disorders impose a great threat to public health. In an attempt to create a world free of drug abuse, we give priority to preparing healthcare professionals to adequately screen, diagnose and treat patients with substance use disorders through free courses addressing addiction and mental health concerns and to encourage more physicians and healthcare workers to train as specialists in treating addiction and substance use disorders.
United Nations. (2021). Cooperation for Science, Health and Security Needed to Counter COVID-19 Impacts on World Drug Challenges. United Nations.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2021). SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. United Nations : UNODC ROMENA. https://www.unodc.org/romena/en/SDG/sdg-3_-ensure-healthy-lives-and-promote-well-being-for-all-at-all-ages.html
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2021). UNODC World Drug Report 2021: pandemic effects ramp up drug risks, as youth underestimate cannabis dangers. United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime.