The wide-ranging disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns are leading to shortages of illegal drugs in some countries, according to a UN report released Thursday.
The report warns that particularly in the case of heroin, shortages could lead to the use of "harmful domestically-produced substances" instead.
Wider consequences of drug shortages could include "injecting drug use and the sharing of injecting equipment and other drug paraphernalia," thereby increasing the risk of transmitting blood-borne diseases.
"Reports emerging from different countries point to a shortage of drugs among end-consumers caused by reduction in imports of drugs and/or by strict lockdown measures," the report from the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says, "with reports of heroin shortages in Europe, South-West Asia and North America in particular".
The report says that the impact of the pandemic and the various measures taken to combat it on illicit drug supply chains has been mixed, with trafficking routes by air being disrupted.
Land routes have also seen "drastic" reductions and increased interception.
The report says that in the case of heroin, "a recent uptick in heroin seizures in the Indian Ocean could be interpreted as indication of an increase in the use of maritime routes for trafficking" towards Europe.
As for cocaine, the report says "there are indications that the reduction in air traffic to Europe resulting from the Covid-19 measures may already have led to an increase in direct cocaine shipments by sea cargo from South America to Europe".
However, it said that trafficking of cannabis was unlikely to be affected in the same way as cocaine or heroin "given that its production often takes place near consumer markets".
It also warns that the pandemic may be presenting some drug smugglers and organised criminals with new opportunities.
"There are indications that drug trafficking groups are adapting their strategies… and that some have started to exploit the situation so as to enhance their image among the population by providing services, in particular to the vulnerable," the report says.
The report also highlights possible effects the global crisis may be having on drug production, for example in Afghanistan, which grows roughly 90 percent of the world's illicit opium.
"With the key months for the opium harvest in Afghanistan being March to June, the 2020 opium harvest… could be affected if the large labour force needed is not able or willing to travel to the areas where opium poppy is grown," the report says.
Some shortage of workers has already been observed "in the western and southern provinces of the country, mainly due to the closure of a border crossing with Pakistan".