Cocaine production, smuggling on the rise after pandemic-related slowdown

Cocaine production and trafficking is surging around the world after slowing down considerably during the COVID pandemic.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Thursday that new hubs and growing criminal networks are behind the comeback that started as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a disruptive effect on drug markets. With international travel severely curtailed, producers struggled to get their product to market,” the report stated. “Night clubs and bars were shut as officials ramped up their attempts to control the virus, causing demand to slump for drugs like cocaine.”

But the drug has come roaring back, “with most regions showing steadily rising numbers of users over the past decade,” according to the report.

“The surge in the global cocaine supply should put all of us on high alert,” UN official Ghada Waly. “The potential for the cocaine market to expand in Africa and Asia is a dangerous reality.”

The UN cited improvements in the process that converts coca bush to cocaine and more overall cultivation of the plant as reasons for the uptick in supply, which rose by 35% between 2021 and 2022. That also led to more and more seizures by law enforcement. In 2021, more than 2,000 tons were seized.

Waly recommended transnational responses based on “on awareness raising, prevention and international and regional cooperation” to slow traffickers.

The UN said demand is highest in the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe, but trafficking hubs in western and central Africa could lead to more users on that continent and in Asia.

“With its latest knowledge and trends on the routes, modalities, and networks employed by criminal actors,” said UN official Angela Me, “it is my hope that the report will support evidence-based strategies which stay ahead of future developments in cocaine production, trafficking and use.”