BENGALURU: At a time when an alarming rise in drug abuse has been recorded in India, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its recently published ‘World Drug Report 2020’, has stated that the “overall opioid use in India is estimated to have increased five-fold in comparison to earlier estimates from a survey carried out in 2004.”According to the UNODC, a major drug use survey carried out recently in India found that in 2018, 2.1 per cent of the population aged 10-75 years, a total of 23 million people, had used opioids in the past year. Among opioids, heroin is the most prevalent substance among the surveyed population followed by the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids and opium.
“In general, the past-year use of opioids is much higher among men (4 per cent of the male population) than women (0.2 per cent of the female population). Moreover, 1.8 per cent of adolescents, aged 10-17 years, are estimated to be past-year opioid users. Of the 23 million past-year opioid users, roughly one-third, or 7.7 million people, suffer from opioid use disorders,” stated the World Drug Report.
A 2019 drug use survey in India estimated that nearly 1 per cent of the population, aged 10-75, had misused pharmaceutical opioids in the past year and that an estimated 0.2 per cent of the population (2.5 million people) were suffering from drug use disorders related to pharmaceutical opioids. Buprenorphine, morphine, pentazocine and tramadol are the most common opioids misused in India, the UNODC report stated.
The main opiate trafficking in India and countries in Central Asia/Transcaucasia flows from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan. India had featured as one of the main countries in which heroin was trafficked between 2014 and 2018 along with, the Gulf countries, notably Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and a number of southern and east African countries, the UNODC has observed.
The report warned of serious health consequences of drug use, which can include a range of “negative outcomes such as drug use disorders, mental health disorders, HIV infection, hepatitis-related liver cancer and cirrhosis, overdose and premature death. People who initiate drug use and subsequently develop disorders typically transition through several stages, from initiation of use to escalation, maintenance and, eventually, dependence or addiction,” stated the UN report.
On the use of darknet for drug transactions, the report stated that India accounts for 3 per cent of the total drug transactions there. “An analysis of email addresses linked to drug listings found on eight major darknet markets in 2016 revealed that while most could be linked to the United States (34 per cent) and Europe (32 per cent, notably the Netherlands and the United Kingdom with 12 per cent each), China accounted for 9 per cent and India for 3 per cent of the total,” the report stated.
On the impact of Covid-19 on the (illicit) drug markets, the UNODC report has warned that the impact could be like the 2008 economic crisis. “Some producers could be forced to seek out new ways to manufacture drugs as restrictions on movement constrict access to precursors and essential chemicals. The biggest immediate impact on drug trafficking can be expected in countries where large quantities are smuggled on commercial airlines...,” the report stated.