On June 24, 2021, the United Nations (U.N.) Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published its annual World Drug Report, which found that the number of people using drugs (narcotics and psychotropic substances) worldwide is up by 22% from 2010. The World Drug Report partially attributes this increase in drug use and death to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly exacerbated unemployment and inequalities, and has caused the loss of some 250 million jobs worldwide.
The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Drug Control Conventions
The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the policymaking body of the U.N. on drug-related matters, is mandated to decide on the scope of control of substances under the three international drug control conventions:
- The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), as amended by the 1972 Protocol (186 state parties).
- The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) (184 state parties).
- The U.N. Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) (191 state parties).
Each international drug control convention has a schedule, or table of substances, that entails different levels of control measures and is updated annually by the CND. As emphasized by the 2019 CND Ministerial Declaration, the international drug control conventions and recommendations “constitute the cornerstone of the international drug control system.” The U.N. Economic and Social Council mandated the CND to be the governing body of the UNODC in 1999, in addition to its role of discharging treaty-based and normative functions.
Key Findings of the World Drug Report
Key findings of the World Drug Report are:
- Over the past two decades, cannabis has become more potent, but fewer young people see it as harmful.
- The years 2017–2020 saw nearly quadruple the number of web-based drug sales compared with 2011–2017.
- The number of drug users in Africa is projected to rise by 40% by 2030.
- COVID-19 accelerated some drug trafficking patterns, including larger shipment sizes and contactless methods to deliver drugs to customers.
Given these challenges, the World Drug Report provides a variety of possible policy responses, including combating misinformation, improving government interaction with internet service providers, regulating cryptocurrency markets, implementing a human-rights-based approach to develop sustainable solutions to drug use, and fostering international cooperation for fighting the enduring problem of drug trafficking, including coordinating law enforcement intelligence. In particular, the World Drug Report recommends developing international accountability mechanisms for shipping and railway companies, the postal services, and air cargo.
The World Drug Report was published in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, whose theme this year was “Share facts on drugs. Save lives.”
This article has been updated to show that the author is Elizabeth Boomer, not Jenny Gesley as was incorrectly stated upon publication.