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Emerging drug threats: UN seeks greater int'l support for low-income countries

  • Published at 12:51 pm June 26th, 2021
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
File photo: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media as UN General Assembly appointed him for a second five-year term from January 1, 2022, in New York City, New York, US, June 18, 2021 Reuters

The UN secretary-general made the remarks in a message marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking that falls on June 26

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said greater international cooperation and support are needed to help low-income countries to take advantage of the advanced capabilities to predict emerging drug threats. 

"Better data is also helping to identify trends and enable real-time monitoring of rapidly shifting trafficking routes. Science-driven early warning systems are helping to predict emerging drug threats," he said. 

The UN secretary-general made the remarks in a message marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking that falls on June 26. 

The theme of this year's observance of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, "Share facts on drugs. Save lives," is a call for solidarity. 

"I urge all member states to listen to the science and take action, building on agreed international frameworks and drawing on United Nations support for health and justice," said the UN chief. 

Science and trust in science are the “hero and lesson” of the pandemic; the world needs both to win against the virus, Guterres said. 

"Scientists delivered safe and effective vaccines in a record time. Access to reliable and verifiable information is making the difference between life and death," he said, adding that action based on evidence is crucial for their responses to drugs, too. 

Urgent challenge

The UN chief said the world drug problem remains an urgent challenge that threatens to exacerbate pandemic impacts and hinder a healthy and inclusive recovery. 

The forthcoming World Drug Report 2021 from the United Office on Drugs and Crime shows that deaths attributed to disorders related to drug use have nearly doubled over the past decade.  

New HIV infections among adults worldwide have declined in recent years, but not among people who inject drugs, who accounted for 10% of new infections in 2019, he said. 

Guterres said international cooperation has helped limit the proliferation of new psychoactive substances, but the problem is shifting to poorer regions where control systems are weaker. "Dark web drug sales continue to rise, and non-medical use of pharmaceuticals, including opioids, is expanding." 

Drug trafficking and organized crime fuel and perpetuate cycles of violence and conflict, Guterres said. 

'Armed groups and terrorists profit'

He said armed groups and terrorists make profits from the illicit drug trade, and the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic has left millions of people even more vulnerable to drug crime and illicit crop cultivation. 

Disparities in access to essential controlled medicines in low- and middle-income countries have been further heightened in the pandemic, he said. 

"For example, medical professionals in West and Central Africa in 2019 had four doses of pain medication every day for one million inhabitants; in North America, the number of doses was nearly 32,000." 

Guterres said investing in balanced prevention as well as control of drug use and drug use disorders produces solid returns -- saved lives, healthier populations, improved workforce participation and productivity, and reduced criminal justice costs. 

Many of the risk factors associated with crime and violent behaviour are also drivers of drug use, and targeted efforts focusing on these overlapping dynamics -- including childhood maltreatment and lack of social support -- can help strengthen prevention, he said. 

Besides, research suggests that law enforcement and policing need to go after the criminals at the upper levels of the drug trafficking chain, who reap the highest profits and wreak the greatest violence. 

"Public-private partnerships - with tech companies, postal and courier services, and shipping companies - represent an essential frontline response in the new fight against drug traffickers, who are increasingly exploiting the legal cargo trade and postal services to move their illicit product," Guterres said.