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Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking: Where Do We Stand?

Sourabh Balwani, Content Writer, Nyayshastram


Annually, 26th June is celebrated as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to create awareness regarding the insidious drug-related substances, their harmful effects and the expansive campaign that strives to prevent abuse of such substances. This year, the theme for the day would be “Better Knowledge for Better Care”. United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), is a wing-body of the UN, striving to address the problem of illicit drug use and transnational crime. The body is mandated to assist the Member States in their struggle against an illicit drug, crime and terrorism.

India, being strategically located in one of the significant trade points of the world, is more prone to the illicit drug and smuggling business, and faces an immense challenge in regulating the use of the drug. Article 47 of the Indian Constitution postulates that the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. However, the word drug in itself does not clearly make it comprehensible the type of substances that it can include. The substances related to drug comprises of opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants. New psychotropic substances are also counted in this category, having potentiality to impact health matters of individuals. This article will clearly demarcate the intricate affairs of drug abuse and illicit trafficking in the international arena as well as in Indian circumstances and highlight the laws prevailing in India for the same.

Drug and the International Arena

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) has been releasing World Drug Report annually, focussing on drug abuse disorders. The latest in the series was released last year where UNODC acknowledged that over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders and are in dire need of treatment services. The report also highlights the increasing prevalence of opioids, stating that two-third of 585,000 people who died due to drug use in 2017, heavily used opioids. There is a continuous rise in the use of opioids in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, while the use of cannabis is rising in regions of North America, South America and Asia. Over 188 million people used cannabis in 2017, and it continues to be the most widely used drug in the world.[1]

The report also draws a stark gap between the number of drug users requiring treatment and the actual treatment being given to the population. The report underscores that only one out of seven people facing the drug disorder problem actually receives treatment and rehabilitation for the same. The effective treatment interventions based on scientific evidence, aligning with human rights obligations are not easily accessible, the report highlighted. In light of this, the international community, along with national governments needs to set a framework for interventions to reduce this gap.[2]

Earlier, three major conventions of the United Nations played cardinal roles in the campaign against drug abuse. These included the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic substances and the third being the 1988 Convention against Illicit Trafficking Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. However, the establishment of UNODC in 1997, has provided a significant thrust to this movement where the world community through cooperation carry out more synchronised efforts to curb illicit drug use.

Drug Abuse in India

The problem of drug abuse and illicit trafficking has been rampant in Indian circumstances as well. Last year, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment sponsored a report of the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. The report christened “Magnitude of Substance Use in India” underscored startling statistics relating to the entrenchment of activities of unlawful drug use in India.[3] The survey reflected that approximately 14.6% of the people (around 16 crores) falling in the age bar between 10 and 75 are current users of alcohol. Around 2.8% (3.1 crores) and 2.06% (2.3 crores) of the Indians reported the use of cannabis products and opioids, respectively. The survey also accounted that there are nationally around 8.5 Lakh People Who Inject Drug (PWID).

State-wise Punjab tops the list or consistently ranks among the top five for various surveys conducted to measure drug abuse and illicit trafficking. States like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh also feature in the list with a higher prevalence of drug culture. In contrast, the report stated a gender gap in use of a drug as well, with every one-woman consuming alcohol against 17 men.[4]

Women, however, are facing drug abuse problems at an increasing pace. The primary reason, experts argue, is the lack of spirit to seek help which is further aggravated with the societal inhibitions. The problems of drug abuse faced by women are often stigmatised, causing persistent anxiety to them and their families. Experts also underscore that the rehabilitation process should be focussed on the ‘hidden’ population (mainly comprising of women in India) because one woman could have an impact on the entire family. As an overall web it will have a larger effect on the society compared with that of male counterparts.[5]

Laws Concerning Drugs in India

The Victorian era codes were initially applicable in India with the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930 and the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Later on, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 was introduced, which superseded the Dangerous Drugs Act. However, the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940 continues to apply. The NDPS Act though remains to be the cardinal legislation proscribing illicit use of drugs and psychotropics substances in India. The Act lays down defined restrictions concerning cultivation, production, trading, export and import of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Though, if such activities are carried out for scientific purposes or medicinal aim, then those are counted as an exception.[6]

The Act has been amended thrice, in 1989, 2001 and 2014. The amendments primarily rambled around aspects of arrests, bail, death penalty and categorisation of punishment based on the quantity of illicit use and trading. However, the inclusion of the death penalty under Section 31A ascribing discretionary powers for repeated offences as an alternative of imprisonment for 30 years under Section 31, portrays the gruesome toll that involvement in such activities could take.[7] India is among 33 countries, which have still retained the death penalty for such offences. The Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office have emphatically denounced such types of punishments as a means to address the issue.

Nevertheless, the legislation also provides for certain progressive steps towards moderating treatment of the individuals involved in the unlawful use of drugs. The creation of funds for treatment of drug addicts, care centres for such people and exemption from prosecution for some categories of a violation, are some of the concrete steps towards placating the problems which the drug addicts face.


The threat of drug abuse and illicit trafficking imperils not only human resource but also threaten the sustainability of countries and their growth in the long run. Narcotics and other similar substances present a near inextricable web, which has allured a good chunk of the population of the world in its realm. Prevention of abuse of drugs and illicit trafficking thus becomes imperative to preclude the difficult to manage regulation from running loose. Concerted efforts at the international and national levels are required to be framed and implemented to thwart the smuggling racket for drugs in various countries. Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director also raised the need for broader international cooperation with balanced and integrated health and criminal justice responses to supply and demand, in order to tackle the pervasive problem.

While at the national level, Indian machinery could prepare for the groundwork to render effective and mentally conducive treatment for those addicted to drugs and other psychotropic substances. Specialised clinic with vast outreach could be established to make them easily accessible for those who are reluctant to go for treatment and rehabilitation. Specialised treatment with exclusive staff for women also needs of the hour, as this could have rippling positive impact towards prevention of drug abuse in Indian society. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has although framed a National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (NAPDDR) for the time frame of 2018-25, its proper implementation with expansive communication with the concerned people, is a must to set the ball rolling. Hence, the awareness regarding narcotics and its illicit trafficking remains the key measure making this year’s theme of “Better Knowledge for Better Care” quite significant.


[1] World Drug Report 2019, United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, available at, last seen on 25/06/2020. [2] Ibid. [3] Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019, available at, last seen on 24/06/2020. [4] Ibid. [5] Arushi Soni, International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking: India among major hubs for illegal trading of narcotics, Firstpost, available at, last seen on 24/06/2020. [6] S. 8, The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. [7] S. 31A, The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

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