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UN Drug Report: Dark Net Narcotic Purchases Increased By 50 Percent In Three Years

On June 22, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published its annual World Drug Report. According to the study, from 2013 to 2016, drug purchases on the dark web surged by 50 percent.

The researchers wrote in the study that, in 2015, approximately 250 million people used narcotics. Among the drug users, 29.5 million people – which is 0.6 percent of the world’s adult population – were “engaged in problematic use” and suffered from disorders, such as dependence, connected to the use of the narcotics. The UN department described opioids as the most harmful drug category, which accounted for 70 percent of the negative impact on the health of the drug users connected to the narcotic disorders globally.

Amphetamine also accounts for a large part of the disorders associated with narcotics. The UN warned about the dangers of the new psychoactive substances (NPS), which market is relatively small, as users are mostly unaware of the content (mostly sold as “research drugs” on the internet) and the dosage of the drugs. These attributes of such substances could expose the users to serious risks to health.

According to the study, hepatitis C is spreading and causing the greatest harm among the estimated 12 million drug users who inject the substances. Among these people, 1.6 million is infected with HIV and more than the half (6.1 million) are living with hepatitis C, while 1.3 million people are suffering from both of the diseases. In overall, the researchers wrote that approximately three times more drug users die from hepatitis C (222,000) than from HIV (60,000). The study emphasized that the hepatitis C is taking more lives since, despite the recent advances in the treatment of the disease, the access remains poor. In most countries, the treatment of hepatitis C is very expensive and most people can’t afford it.

The first World Drug Report was released 20 years ago. Therefore, the UN department seeks to move forward with a joint international action related to drug prevention. UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov highlighted the outcome document of the 2016 landmark UN General Assembly special session on the world drug problem, which contains over 100 pieces of advice to governments and law enforcement to reduce the demand and supply of the narcotics. However, the director acknowledges that more has to be done in the case.

“There is much work to be done to confront the many harms inflicted by drugs to health, development, peace, and security, in all regions of the world,” said Mr. Fedotov.

According to the data published by the UNODC, in 2014, transnational organized crime groups were estimated to have generated 20 to 33 percent of their revenues from the sale of narcotics. Researchers stated that the development of the technology, such as the field of mobile communications, offers new opportunities to drug traffickers, especially in the case of the dark web. The UNODC detailed that the criminals take advantage of the anonymity of the darknet, where they can purchase drugs using digital currencies, such as bitcoin. While dark web drug trafficking only adds a small portion of the narcotic trade, there has been a significant increase in the number of drug-related transactions. From September 2013 to January 2016, the number of drug sales rose by 50 percent annually. According to the study, customers mostly buy cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, hallucinogenic substances, and NPS.

The researchers reported that the range of substances on the drug market significantly increased in the recent years. The opioid market had become more diversified, with a combination of internationally controlled substances, such as heroin and prescription medicines that are either produced and sold as counterfeit pharmaceutical products or diverted from the legal market. Since the types of NPS evolve quickly, by 2015, the number of reported substances falling into this category had almost doubled from 260 to 483 compared to 2012.

In addition, the production and the sales of opium and cocaine had increased in 2016. Last year, the global opium production increased by 33 percent compared to 2015. The UNODC explains this rise in the higher yields at opium poppy fields in Afghanistan. From 2013 to 2015, the coca bush cultivation increase by 30 percent primarily as the result of increased cultivation of the plant in Columbia. After a minor fall, the researchers reported that the use of cocaine is increasing in the two largest markets: North America and Europe.

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