UN says biggest threat comes from opioids as epidemic looms

UN annual report on drugs finds opioids pose global threat as new technologies enable easier spread.

Photo by: AP Archive
Photo by: AP Archive

The contents of a drug overdose rescue kit including naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin at a training in Buffalo, US, May 13, 2015. The UN World Drug Report states that opioids like heroin are the most harmful type of drugs.

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched its annual report on global drug use and its potential problems on Thursday. The report states that opioids are the most harmful type of drug, with users particularly at risk of overdoses and catching diseases.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedetov said the 2017 report contains more than 100 concrete recommendations to reduce demand and supply. However he acknowledges that more needs to be done.

About five percent of the world's population has abused drugs at least once in recent years and nearly 30 million people could be dependent on narcotics to the point of needing treatment, according to the UN Report.

The rise of mobile and encrypted messaging services makes it harder to trace traffickers who no longer need face-to-face contact with their clients. The so-called "DarkWeb" also allows manufacturers to sell drugs in near anonymity.

Synthetic drugs are produced worldwide and the supply is expanding. Because they're complex, ever-changing substances, it's hard to prosecute manufacturers.

The report also highlights how terror groups such as the Taliban benefit from the drug trade. It suggests organisations such as Daesh and Boko Haram may also be involved in trafficking.

The report, based on latest figures available, also notes the following:

  • Of the almost 12 million people worldwide illegally injecting drugs, 1.6 million have HIV and 6.1 million are living with hepatitis C.
  • At least twice as many men as women suffer from drug use disorders.
  • Over 100 countries reported the emergence of 739 new psychoactive substances that change brain function and result in alterations in perception and mood between 2009 and 2016.
  • Cocaine use in Europe increased by at least 30 percent between 2011 and 2016.
  • Global opium production increased by a third in 2016 compared with the previous year, with improved poppy yields in Afghanistan as the major reason. 
  • Heroin and morphine seizures were down in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, countries along the traditional Balkans route for drug smuggling over 2014-2015, but they were sharply up over the same period along the route through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and via the Black Sea to Ukraine and Romania.
TRTWorld and agencies