DRUG PROBLEM GROWING WORLDWIDE – by Ghada Waly Director General UNODC

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Ghada Waly
Director-General United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The world drug problem is growing ever more complex, and it is contributing to holding back progress across the SDGs.Synthetic drugs have changed the landscape, making it cheaper and easier to produce and smuggle extremely potent and often lethal substances.
Drugs such as fentanyl are causing record overdose deaths, while clandestine production labs are sprouting up in new parts of the world. This phenomenon has added to, but not replaced, the threat of traditional plant-based drugs.
The cocaine market, for example, is expanding and spreading violence, including in Europe, where we are seeing the biggest seizures of cocaine in recent years, mostly in port cities like Antwerp and Rotterdam.
Meanwhile drug production methods and trafficking models are evolving. Smaller, more fragmented, and highly specialized and networked criminal groups are cooperating across different segments of the supply chain.
The internet is growing as a marketplace for drugs, precursors, and non-controlled chemicals, as well as a platform to exchange manufacturing know-how.
And in a volatile global context, the illicit drug trade is overlapping with conflict, violence, and instability.The drug trade is fanning the flames of gang violence in Haiti and threatening public order in Ecuador.Industrial scale drug trafficking is thriving in tandem with other criminal activities in Myanmar’s border areas.

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And flows of synthetic drugs are adding complexity to already complex situations in the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Iraq.
The impact of the world drug problem continues to be devastating.
Almost 300 million people are estimated to use drugs around the world, and more than 39 million of them suffer from drug use disorders.
The violence and exploitation surrounding the drug trade is ravaging communities, undermining safety, rights, and livelihoods. And innocent people and frontline responders are losing their lives every day.The commitments you made together in 2019 are as relevant now as the day they were adopted.
As you review those commitments, I urge you to focus on the goals that unite you.I am delighted to note that you have adopted an outcome document at this mid-term review, despite a very challenging geopolitical context, and that the Vienna spirit prevailed.It is a strong signal of your determination to work past divisions to tackle drug challenges and help the people affected. Multilateralism can work.
Division breeds inaction, and this is very much a time for action.I want to commend the Chair of the Commission for his “Pledge 4 Action” initiative, and to encourage all of you to make pledges.And looking forward, I would like to emphasize a few areas where action is needed most.

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Firstly, I want to emphasize everyone’s right to health. People with drug use disorders need access to effective and voluntary treatment, yet only 1 in 5 of them are in treatment.
Women face greater barriers to treatment which intersect with other forms of injustice. Displaced people, people in humanitarian settings, and people in contact with the criminal justice system all face greater risks, as well as greater obstacles to care.
Also, people who inject drugs are far more likely to be living with HIV or Hepatitis C.
And drug use disorders are closely linked with other mental health disorders, amplifying harms and risks.
We must close all gaps in treatment and care.We must address health problems with treatment, not punishment.And we must invest far, far more in prevention, with a special focus on children and adolescents, who are more likely to develop disorders the earlier they begin drug use.
At UNODC we are focusing on people, from our drug prevention programmes for children and parents; to our collaboration with WHO on treatment and overdose prevention; to our work on HIV prevention, treatment, and care for people who use drugs and people in prisons.
Working across sectors, hand in hand with civil society, we can reach those at risk of being left behind.
The second issue I want to underline is the growing and urgent need to help farmers find livelihoods away from drug cultivation.
It is especially crucial in Afghanistan, where an opium ban has reduced cultivation by 95 per cent but left farmers with few alternatives for income.
And it is also crucial in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, where we see increases in cultivated areas.UNODC is helping thousands of farming families in 7 countries, and we need your support to generate more opportunities.

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The third issue I wish to draw attention to is the need for agile responses to disrupt drug markets.Criminal organizations should be targeted by focusing on their common characteristics, such as the profit motive and flow of money, the exploitation of cyber technology, and the use of firearms and violence.
More engagement with the private sector is a must, whether it is shipping and transport companies, chemical producers, the financial sector, or tech companies. And we need to be prepared for the threats and opportunities of A.I, exploring uses such as monitoring the dark web and tracking designer drugs, while stopping traffickers from exploiting tools like machine learning.
UNODC is on the ground training tens of thousands of practitioners every year to improve interdiction capacities and create cross-border networks. We must work together to adapt to new and evolving criminal models.
The fourth area I wish to emphasize is the vital importance of science, data, research, and evidence. Over the past decade, this Commission has united around the science to place over 80 substances and precursors under international control.
And UNODC has been helping countries to implement those scheduling decisions, providing support to hundreds of national laboratories, and developing tools like the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs.
We need to keep up with the breakneck pace of the illicit drug trade.
And we need to improve the collection and usage of data to inform and assess responses.
UNODC strives to make global, reliable data available, notably through our World Drug Report, regional and thematic reports, and cultivation surveys.
We need your cooperation to maximize coverage and accuracy, and to address significant data gaps, mainly in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
The fifth and final point I want to leave you with, is that there is an urgent need for balanced and collective responses.
No amount of policing and law enforcement is going to end the illicit drug market, as long as there is enormous demand.
No amount of prevention, treatment, and harm reduction will end widespread dependence and disorders, as long as dangerous substances continue to flood communities. And no country can secure its borders and its citizens alone.
The international drug control conventions have a timeless goal at their heart: the health and wellbeing of humankind.And they represent a global common ground, at a time when international cooperation is needed most.
In this time of divisions and frictions, I urge you to appreciate the value of having a common framework, and to unite around that framework.The conventions are flexible frameworks that can be adapted to our times, in practice.It is the role of this Commission to guide their implementation today.
Together, you can promote effective responses that respect the rights and dignity of all, without surrendering the health and security of our communities to drugs and drug traffickers.And you can generate the political will and invest the financial resources that are needed to confront the world drug problem.
UNODC pledges to stand with you for a healthier, safer, and more prosperous future for all.
(Address at the opening of the 67th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at General Assembly of UN on 14 March 2024)

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