TheInternational Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or World Drug Day, is commemorated every year on June 26 and aims to increase action in achieving a drug-free world.

This year’s campaign recognizes that “effective drug policies must be rooted in science, research, full respect for human rightscompassion, and a deep understanding of the social, economic, and health implications of drug use.”

Ghada Waly, Executive Director of UNODCsaid that providing evidence-based treatment and support to all those affected by drug use is needed, “while targeting the illicit drug market and investing much more in prevention.”

New threat from nitazenes

Drug production, trafficking, and use continue to exacerbate instability and inequality, while causing untold harm to people’s health, safety and well-being.
— Ghada Waly

In the decade to 2022, the number of people using illicit drugs increased to 292 million, the UNODC report says.

It noted that most users worldwide consume cannabis – 228 million people – while 60 million people worldwide consume opioids, 30 million people use amphetamines, 23 million use cocaine and 20 million take ecstasy.

Further, UNODC found that there was an increase in overdose deaths following the emergence of nitazenes – a group of synthetic opioids potentially more dangerous than fentanyl – in several high-income countries.

Trafficking in the Triangle

The drug report noted that traffickers in the Golden Triangle, a region in Southeast Asia, have found ways to integrate themselves into other illegal markets, such as wildlife trafficking, financial fraud, and illegal resource extraction.

“Displaced, poor and migrant communities” bear the brunt of this criminal activity and on occasion they are forced to engage in opium farming or illegal resource extraction for their survival; this can lead to civilians becoming drug users or falling into debt at the mercy of crime groups.

environmental fallout

These illegal crimes contribute to environmental degradation via deforestation, toxic waste dumping and chemical contamination.

“Drug production, trafficking, and use continue to exacerbate instability and inequality, while causing untold harm to people’s health, safety and well-being,” UNODC’s Ms. Waly said.

The potency of cannabis has increased by as much as four times in parts of the world over the last 24 years.

Cocaine emerges and cannabis legalization

In 2022, cocaine production hit a record high with 2,757 tons produced – a 20 per cent increase from 2021.

The increase in supply and demand of the product was accompanied by a surge of violence in nations along the supply chain, especially in Ecuador and Caribbean countries. There was also a spike in health problems within some destination countries in Western and Central Europe.

Similarly, harmful usage of cannabis emerged as the product was legalized across Canada, Uruguay, and 27 jurisdictions in the United States, much of which was laced with high-THC (delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol) content – which is believed to be the main ingredient behind the psychoactive effect of the drug.

This led to an increase in the rate of attempted suicides among regular cannabis users in Canada and the US.

The hope for World Drug Day

The UNODC report highlights that the “right to health is an internationally recognized human right that belongs to all human beingsregardless of a person’s drug use status or whether a person is imprisoned, detained or incarcerated.”

UNODC’s calls for governments, organizations and communities to collaborate on establishing evidence-based plans that will fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.

The agency also hopes communities will assist in “fostering resilience against drug use and promoting community-led solutions.”