Side Event: COVID-19 pandemic and its influence on the world drug problem: New challenges and prospects

Organized by the Russian Federation with the support of Algeria, Belarus, Belgium, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, Sweden, Tajikistan and Thailand, and the European Union, the International Narcotics Control Board, and the UNODC Research and Trend Analysis Branch

Welcoming remarks by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mr. Oleg Syromolotov (video message – technical issues)

Moderator: Ana Nazarova, Russia: We are very sorry for these technical problems. And this is one of the challenges posed by the container, which is not implemented by our commission. So we hope that the main points of the statements were on the screen. It’s my honor to give the floor to Madame Waly.

Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Ms. Ghada Waly: My thanks to the Russian Federation for organizing this timely discussion, which follows on today’s adoption of a CND statement on the impact of the pandemic on the implementation of member states commitments to address and counter the world drug problem. COVID-19 has changed our world, causing immense tragedy and loss of life. The global pandemic has also shifted drug markets, patterns of use and trafficking trends. Further threatening health, safety, security and development. It will be collected concerted efforts by all member states to address these challenges, effectively. As the CND statement acknowledges a pandemic, by putting health system under severe strain has also had a negative impact on recruitment and health service capacities.
According to a rapid assessment conducted by WHO, at least one intervention or service related to drug use was partially or completely disrupted in 65% of countries. Furthermore, countries have faced difficulties with ensuring access to availability of internationally, controlled substances for pain relief, and other medical and scientific purposes, illicit drug use patterns have also shifted as virus related restrictions limited social and recreational activities, which in turn reduce the use of drugs such as MDMA, LSD and cocaine. At the same time, many countries have observed an increase in the use of cannabis, and the non medical use of pharmaceutical drugs, such as benzodiazepines, broadly speaking, drug markets have proved largely resilient, even in unprecedented conditions, brought about by the global pandemic. UNODC research has found that after suffering initial disruptions, early on in the crisis, organized crime groups, adjusted their operations with reality, and speed. By the end of last year, drug trafficking, appeared to be continuing in line with the pre pandemic trends, or even at an increased pace, the pandemic also served to accelerate existing market developments, trafficking of drugs online and through use of maritime and waterway routes were on the rise. And these trends were further reinforced as the crisis restricted movements, as well as overland and air travel. Moreover, in 2020, the average size of intercepted shipments further increased and several record seizures were made during the pandemic, for example, in November last year, more than 11 pounds of cocaine was seized from one container. To respond to these developments, UNODC has tailored support to member states: since the start of the pandemic, we issued a research brief on the impact of COVID-19 on the global drug supply chain. Our office has continued to deliver technical assistance, and promote evidence based demand reduction and treatment while helping to strengthen law enforcement responses include time and drug trafficking, on the highest fee, the coca and opium cultivation surveys, we published our flagship report report last June, and we are currently engaged in producing the 2021 report, which will also address the dynamics effect on drug trafficking production and use.
Thanks also to the efforts of many member states that respond to our call for up to date information on the impact of COVID on the drug problem. This research remains relevant and very much needed. We have not seen the end of COVID-19 crisis, and we will be dealing with its consequences for many years to come. The pandemic has reversed progress in reducing poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the situation has left more people vulnerable to threats of drugs and crime, and we must offer greater support to maintain and expand prevention, treatment and other services to reach the people who need organized criminal groups are sure to take advantage of social and economic fragility to expand their activities including drug trafficking. As we have seen throughout the pandemic criminal groups have anticipated and adapted to changing circumstances and exploited opportunities and exploited opportunity opportunities. Our efforts to counter drug threats, and address challenges must also adapt and innovate in this context I very much welcome today’s discussion, which brings together distinguished experts from all nations. The world drug problem are shared challenges that have manifested themselves in diverse ways in different parts of the world. And this is an opportunity to discuss shared solutions. Even after dispensing and moving restrictions are no longer in place, we can keep building on these innovations, including by sharing best practices and further enhancing cooperation between public health and law enforcement to promote balanced, evidence based responses. I hope this session  will try to advance these efforts, and ensure that no one affected by the world drug problem is left behind. As we build forward from the pandemic, we are proud to support you and here to help you. Thank you, and I wish you fruitful discussions, over to you,.

Chair of the CND 64th session, Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations in Vienna H.E. Ms. Dominika Krois: Thank you very much and good afternoon colleagues I see many familiar faces. I hope you hear me, and I see that you hear me, because you are smiling at my at me. Very nice. Thank you very much Thank you also to the organizers for inviting me and for organizing this event, it’s extremely timely because, unfortunately, the COVID 19 pandemic has affected the work of the Commission sitting alone, almost alone with some colleagues from the Secretariat on the call do, and, and they rest is is somewhere virtually present COVID pandemic impacted, also the world drug problem illicit drug markets have been very quick in adapting to the new situation, while access to drug prevention and treatment has become even more challenging.
We fortunately managed to guarantee certain business continuity and also we reflect upon the impact which the COVID pandemic could have on the Commission, as the EU or no we adopted during we adopted during the opening of the general debate today, a joint statement on the impact of the Coronavirus disease pandemic on the implementation of the member states, joint commitments to address and counter all aspects of the word drug problem. This statement will also be submitted as a substantive contribution to the high level political forum, under the guidance of the ECOSOC which will focus this year on sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, building on inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development in the joint statement, the Commission identified actions to take to address the impact of the pandemic, including on expanding the coverage and strengthening drug prevention and treatment systems and related health and social services and to increase the resilience to respond effectively to future possible future pandemics and other emerging health threats.
The actions includes include also developing and implementing innovative drug treatment and recovery delivery service systems, such as E health platforms and procedures in the post pandemic environment, include the actions include also promoting viable economic alternatives to mitigate any negative economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last, ensuring access to and availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, which may improve responses to future agencies, and emergency medical care situations, glass, expanding law enforcement activities, targeting trafficking modalities that have emerged, or grown in the context of the pandemic. Plus, strengthening bilateral, regional and international cooperation to counter drug trafficking traffickers exploitation of occupational and online trafficking methods and routes, during the pandemic and beyond. We also undertook to conduct research and collecting data on the impacts of the pandemic on the world track problem and to regularly, inform the commission about made progress, and also to ensure that no one affected by the world drug problem is left behind in the health response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Those are just a few. Undoubtedly, also as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, the role of the internet as an effective channel of distribution tracks, Rose, which once again indicates that while modern technology might prove useful in solving problems of the contemporary world. It also might turn against us. The COVID pandemic seriously impacts on track services across the globe, especially when it comes to providing or maintaining the previous level of service. as a consequence of the pandemic truck services were forced to transform the operating procedures. As with every crisis this new situation offers an opportunity to learn important lessons for the future to be better prepared for another epidemic, if it happens, sharing best practices among countries and regions might set a good example of how to draw on the international cooperation for a specific purpose of helping those in need. It’s up to us to arrive at the right conclusions for the future, and others to emerge from this pandemic better prepared for unfavorable events. We need collaboration both in the field of truck supply and demand reduction, the international community should serve as a vehicle for data collection, experience exchange and discussion on effective methods of reducing the demand for narcotic drugs in times of pandemic, and in general, in the joint statement on the COVID 19 pandemic. The Commission invited Member States and other relevant stakeholders to exchange national good practices and lessons learned to improve national drug policies so that we are able to more quickly respond to a possible pandemic and other emerging threats. I’m looking forward to working with all member states and stakeholders to ensure that we’ll be back, and we will be back stronger at all levels in the months to come. I thank you very much. 

President of the International Narcotics Control Board Cornelis P. de Joncheere: Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the government of the Russian Federation for organizing this event, and the board is very pleased to be a cosponsor. We think it’s important that we analyze the impact of pandemic on the world drug problem. And we need to learn from this, how to prevent and mitigate the negative effects. In our annual report for 2020, launched on March 25, we devoted a section to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. We focused on two critical issues that the board and member states were facing. One, to continue ensuring availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes. And secondly, the effects of the COVID pandemic on trafficking, and the illicit drug markets. At the start of the COVID pandemic, the global supply chain of medicine has been affected by the disruption in the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, and by the disruption of global trade and transport, and the logistical challenges due to border closures and travel restrictions.
In addition, health systems were confronted with an increase in demand for control of medicines, necessary for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 included controlled substances such as fentanyl and midazolam needed to provide pain relief and sedation for COVID patients in the intensive care. In the face of supply problems in greater demand countries responded with a number of contingency measures, such as increasing stops to provide a greater option of alternative medicines, parallel imports from other countries, and also temporary export bans, which in turn led to shortages of medicines in other countries. In April, 2020, the board, joined the call made in the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, or the need to provide palliative care during and after the COVID 19 pandemic. And on August last year, the Board issued a statement, together with UNODC and WHO on the importance to maintain access to internationally controlled substances. During the COVID 19 pandemic, the board has recommended in its annual report that countries reviewing their forecasts for the demands of controlled medicines, streamline all the necessary administrative and logistical required measures introduced by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and also influenced realistic progress data are sparse and the effects vary by country, and by region, as they relate to. There has been an impact on the law enforcement capacities, and there have been changes in the modus operandi of drug trafficking organizations with the contraction of passenger flights, drug trafficking by air passengers decreased in 2020, the transportation of commercial goods. After the initial disruption, they largely bounced back, and therefore trafficking of drugs by maritime shipping or commercial air freight has likely continued to similar levels to those before the pandemic and Dark Web markets, social media, encrypted communication applications and online forums, seem to be playing an even bigger role in providing drugs to the users traffickers and trafficking organizations have rapidly adapted their modus operandi to the current situation: using online, and encrypted communication channels, and new transportation modes and trafficking routes. Information exchange is vital for joint efforts to tackle these new challenges in drug trafficking … and we must recognize and analyze and learn from the challenges that it has posed to the international drug control system. This is the time for enhanced cooperation in drug control under the principles of common and shared responsibility. I thank the Russian Federation for having taken the initiative for this event, and I look forward to the discussion and to concrete proposals on how we can further our collaboration and reach these new challenges. Thank you very much.

Executive Director of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) Mr. Adam Namm: Greetings from Washington DC. My name is Adam Nam and I am the Executive Secretary of the Inter American drug abuse Control Commission, known by its Spanish language acronym CICAD. As many of you know, CICAD is the consultative and advisory body of American States or OAS, on the drug issue. It serves as a forum for OAS member states to discuss and find solutions to the world drug problem, and provide some technical assistance to increase their capacity to address. Thanks to the permanent observer mission of Russia to the OAS for this side event. The Coronavirus highlighted the need to take a closer look at policies that protect individual’s health, safety and survival. Most countries have implemented measures such as stay at home orders, that can have a profound effect on pre existing mental health conditions and disorders related to psychoactive substance abuse. These measures present challenges to those who have or have had a substance use disorder, such as the risk of relapse students had difficulties accessing mental health care and treatment services, greatly limited drug prevention programs are another unfortunate result of the pandemic. Adapting CICAD’s demand reduction programming, we have offered numerous online trainings on treatment and prevention webinars on issues such as telephone helpline and conducted online surveys including a survey on psychoactive substance use patterns during the pandemic. (issues with audio)

Director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) Mr. Alexis Goosdeel: I will share with you some of the main findings that we can present on the impact of the COVID pandemic. To say a few words about the impact of the pandemic itself and the situation in terms of drug market, and drug use and harms… there was a very severe disruption of services out of the European Union, there was reduced availability of services. There has been a difficulty because the professionals working in those programs had no access to protective equipment, against the virus. So certainly the first impact was in terms of disruption. But after the first few weeks, and also taking into account that the measures for the lockdown were not exactly the same on the EU member states,  we saw people working in the treatment centers or in harm reduction to maintain link with clients and to remain informed, and I would say also, in many cases, to adapt themselves to the new needs and new urgent needs of their clients. So this means we have seen a lot of innovative solutions. For instance, in cases where the rules for screening of the patients and first assessment of the candidates were not applicable because of the lockdown at local level in most of the cases solutions have been found to find alternatives to make the assessment of some of those patients and to allow them to enter in the program, even in times of lockdown, which is very important because we have seen that in many member states, there is a certain proportion in the opioid substitution program so this, this has been an example of improvement. Or, in other cases, for instance, it was necessary to avoid any concentration of patients in the centers, and therefore, as the director of a treatment program in Italy needed to make or to conclude the gentleman’s agreement with the client, for instance, giving them methadone doses for three or four days in advance, of course, for patients who were subsidized in the treatment to in order to maintain the treatment and to reduce the risk related to commit the fact that this has been the opportunity to see clients and users. There’s been temporary shortages of course, in the in the first weeks of the lockdown. Less drug use in social settings, which means that MDMA and cocaine use has been reduced.  But then, there has been also increased of some other substance use, mainly for cannabis, but also alcohol, and then medicines in particular benzodiazepines […] in some cases of fake benzodiazepines. Then the third impact of COVID, was that organized crime groups are resilient, and very innovative, showing the importance of, for instance the services of encrypted messages. If we look at the drug market, if you try to characterize the situation today: What we say is that there was no huge impact of the pandemic on drug trafficking at wholesale level. Drug’s availability remains high in Europe by all standards. We are never seen before availability of any kind of drugs in our region. We also see a very high purity or potency of those drugs, just to remind you that the potency of THC in the cannabis has doubled in the last 10 years. We have also seen that to the Americans there has been larger shipments, and that leads to the infiltration of logic, logistical supply chains. What we also see is the diversification of production. The apparition on the European market, of organized crime groups of Mexican origin being involved in the development of production facilities with the capacity for industrial level production. Finally, we see overall increased use of cocaine and crack cocaine – it was the most unethical consumption in the EU 10 years ago, only in the few cities, and also it is characterized by the fact that people who are using crack cocaine, are not entering very quickly into treatment. So basically, the importance of the problem is still under the radar. This is why our cooperation with all addiction services as far as data collection is key. What we also see is that the increase in the potency of THC, but also the increase in the admissions to treatment for problem cannabis use, and there have been a lot of of issues. One of the most recent issues appearing regarding cannabis. And to conclude that what I would like to say is that we are facing a situation where we could be in front of a future perfect storm. With ever highest availability of all kinds of drugs and higher potency and lower prices. At the same time we see already the economic crisis that has been caused by, as a consequence of the COVID… So certainly, we cannot consider that drugs are not a problem anymore, they are just different from before. They are everywhere, and they are much more present than before. And in that sense, harm reduction and treatment centers are considered as part of essential services. We need more comprehensive and more inclusive approach. And certainly we cannot develop those approach, if we don’t associate and include as partners, the beneficiaries from those treatments, and I would say in the situation where the worst can still happen. I think it’s time to use the more to do the right thing and not forget about drugs when you focus on COVID…

Moderator: Thank you, I hope we inspired you to strengthen cooperation and implementation on our commitments to counter the world drug problem. Have a nice CND!

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