Pandemic causes disruptions to illegal drug trade

Jul 7, 2020

According to the findings of a recent report published by the United Nations (U.N.), the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the illegal drug trade, affecting nearly every country and various kinds of drugs. The report was created using data from governments and open sources, including the media.

“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. Sudden changes in the supply and availability of drugs can in turn trigger changes in consumption behaviours.”

From the U.N.’s report

Lead researcher Angela Me, who works with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, in Vienna, told NPR News that although small-scale disruptions are commonly observed in the illegal drug trade, the large disruptions occurring in recent months are nearly unprecedented. 

“It’s a completely different scale… Here everything has been disrupted,” she said. In fact, disruptions to the illegal drug trade of such magnitude have not been recorded since World War II. 

It appears that disruption of the black market likely results from the impact of the pandemic on labour and transportation industries worldwide. Specifically, the U.N. report has found a shortage of field workers to harvest the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the world’s largest heroin supplier.

“The [poppy] harvest involves more than a hundred thousand people,” Me said, noting Afghanistan sealed its border with Pakistan in March because of the virus. “Much of this labour force comes from other countries and it’s kind of a labour migration in a very short period of time,” she added.

According to the report findings, the cocaine production in Colombia has been affected by reduced supplies of gasoline, and production of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been reduced by shortages of precursor chemicals supplied from Southeast Asia. The report also mentions that lockdowns in Europe could trigger an increase in demand for cannabis, which could be serviced by increased local production.