Significant increase in seizures of drugs in India over past five years: UN watchdog

Significant increase in seizures of drugs in India over past five years: UN watchdog

United Nations: There has been significant increase in seizures of drugs in India over the past five years, with the darknet and maritime routes emerging as the preferred modes of trafficking, according to a UN narcotics watchdog.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2022 Annual Report, released on Thursday, also noted “proactive regulations” by India to deal with the illicit manufacture of large quantities of synthetic drugs.

The report said there has been a significant increase in seizures of drugs over the past five years, with the darknet and maritime routes emerging as the preferred modes of trafficking. In the period 2017–2022, heroin seizures increased from 2,146 kg in 2017 to 7,282 kg in 2021.

There has also been an increase of more than 70 per cent in seizures of opium, from 2,551 kg in 2017 to 4,386 kg in 2021, and a more than 90 per cent increase in seizures of cannabis, from 3,52,539 kg in 2017 to 6,75,631 kg in 2021, the report said, citing information reported by the Narcotics Control Board of India.

The report said that port officials in India have reported seizures of large quantities of heroin detected in shipping containers, including almost 3 tons detected in Gujarat in September 2021, “which suggests there has been an expansion of drug trafficking along the southern route and through the Arabian Sea.” In Asia, India reported that seizures of cocaine amounted to 364 kg in 2021.

In the previous three years, such seizures averaged only about 40 kg. The record level of seizures in 2021 was attributable to a single seizure involving 300 kg of cocaine discovered in a container that had originated in Panama and transited through Antwerp, Belgium, and Colombo.

In March 2022, Sri Lanka Customs at the port of Colombo found 350 kg of cocaine in a container that had arrived from Panama via Belgium and Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the consignment had been destined for India.

In 2020, nine countries in Asia reported the seizure of a total of 1.2 tons of tramadol, a substance not under international control, of which India accounted for almost the entire amount intercepted.

That was a significant increase over 2019 when India seized 144 kg of tramadol and other countries in South Asia reported combined seizures of 70 kg. “The seizure operations in India led to the dismantling of a major international criminal network trafficking tramadol and other psychoactive substances that exploited the darknet,” it said.

It further said that as global demand for synthetic drugs such as pharmaceutical opioids and illicitly produced methamphetamine, MDMA and ketamine continues to grow, illicit manufacturing and trafficking organisations are expected to increase their global activities. “India, which is home to a large chemical and pharmaceutical industry, has witnessed the rise of commercial chemical factories that have been adapted to illicitly manufacture large quantities of synthetic drugs and their precursors,” the report said adding that this development has been driven by the availability of highly qualified but underemployed chemists, who are susceptible to recruitment by criminal organisations.

“To address that situation, more proactive regulations are being developed and coordination among government agencies is being improved in order to facilitate the early detection and scheduling of new psychoactive substances,” it said.

In addition, the regulation of online drug sales is being improved, and both traditional and digital investigative capacities are being enhanced.

In India, according to the Annual Report 2021–2022 of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, approximately 23 million people aged 10–75 have used opioids, mainly heroin and pharmaceutical opioids. An estimated 8 million people were registered for opioid use disorders. On the primary manufacturers of internationally controlled psychotropic substances, five countries were responsible for more than 80 per cent of all global manufacture in 2021: India (24 per cent, or 231.5 tonnes), China (21 per cent, or 200.6 tonnes), United States (18 per cent, or 173 tonnes), Italy (11 per cent, or 106.9 tonnes) and Germany (7 per cent, or 64.9 tonnes). Global production of morphine-rich opiate raw materials in the main producing countries decreased from 421 tonnes in morphine equivalent in 2020 to 329 tonnes in 2021. Spain remained the leading producer in 2021 (100 tonnes), followed by Australia (96 tonnes), Turkiye (69 tonnes), France (37 tonnes) and India (27 tonnes). Those five countries accounted for nearly all global production in 2021.

The report noted that South Asia remains an important transit area for traffickers smuggling illicitly produced opiates from Afghanistan to Europe and North America. In addition, the five coastal States in South Asia, namely Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are exposed to trafficking because of maritime trafficking routes that cross the Indian Ocean. “India, in particular, has noted an intensification of trafficking in opiates originating in Afghanistan and trafficked eastward, along the southern route,” the report said.

The illicit cultivation of cannabis for domestic consumption and trafficking continues in South Asia, with Bangladesh, India and Nepal most frequently mentioned as countries of origin, departure and transit for cannabis herb originating in South Asia in the period 2016–2020.

INCB President Jagjit Pavadia said the “expanding cannabis industry is marketing cannabis-related products to appeal to young people and this is a major cause for concern as is the way the harms associated with using high-potency cannabis products are being played down.”


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