Opioid use in India has increased fivefold says UN

As exposed players in the US liability market continue to monitor developments in opiod-related litigation, a report from the United Nations (UN) has pointed to a shocking fivefold increase in opioid use in the Indian subcontinent.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its recently published ‘World Drug Report 2020’, “overall opioid use in India is estimated to have increased five-fold in comparison to earlier estimates from a survey carried out in 2004.”

A 2019 drug use survey in India estimated that nearly 1 per cent of the population, aged 10-75, had misused pharmaceutical opioids in the past year and that an estimated 0.2 per cent of the population (2.5 million people) were suffering from drug use disorders related to pharmaceutical opioids. Buprenorphine, morphine, pentazocine and tramadol are the most common opioids misused in India, the UNODC report stated.

The main opiate trafficking in India and countries in Central Asia is understood to flow from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.

India had featured as one of the main countries in which heroin was trafficked between 2014 and 2018 along with other Gulf countries, notably Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as a number of southern and east African countries, UNODC observed.

According to UNODC, a major drug use survey carried out recently in India found that in 2018 alone 2.1 per cent of the population aged 10-75 years, a total of 23 million people, had used opioids in the past year. Among opioids, heroin is the most prevalent substance among the surveyed population followed by the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids and opium.

“In general, the past-year use of opioids is much higher among men (4 per cent of the male population) than women (0.2 per cent of the female population). Moreover, 1.8 per cent of adolescents, aged 10-17 years, are estimated to be past-year opioid users. Of the 23 million past-year opioid users, roughly one-third, or 7.7 million people, suffer from opioid use disorders,” stated the World Drug Report.

On the impact of Covid-19 on the (illicit) drug markets, the UNODC report warned that the impact could be akin to the 2008 economic crisis:

“Some producers could be forced to seek out new ways to manufacture drugs as restrictions on movement constrict access to precursors and essential chemicals. The biggest immediate impact on drug trafficking can be expected in countries where large quantities are smuggled on commercial airlines.”