In 2021, China's narcotics control authorities coordinated and carried forward the rectification of critical drug-affected areas, creation and demonstration of model cities, as well as tackling drug problems in rural areas. Relentless efforts were made to implement strategies to address the root causes of drug demand and drug supply while launching operations to combat drug-related crimes. The year 2021 saw 54,000 drug-related cases solved in China, 77,000 suspects arrested, 27 tons of drugs seized and 326,000 persons identified as using drugs, down by 16.3%, 16.7%, 51.4% and 23.6% respectively year-on-year. With the joint efforts throughout the year, the overall drug situation kept improving, featuring decline in the amount of drugs trafficked into China, decrease of domestic drug manufacture and supply, and curbed drug trafficking and illicit diversion of precursor chemicals. Moreover, the scaling down of drug abuse and drug-related crimes had been seen for many years. Due to the evolving global situation and Covid-19, drug production around the world remained high, online drug transactions was more active, and the number of drug abusers continued to rise. In this context, China's drug situation experienced some new changes and challenges.
I. Drug abuse
Thanks to extensive drug prevention education and the Campaign "Care for Drug Users", the scale of drug abuse kept shrinking down. As of the end of 2021, there were 1.49 million registered drug users nationwide with a year-on-year decrease of 17.5%, 3.4 million people who didn't relapse for more than three years after withdrawal, an increase of 13.4% year-on-year, and 121,000 newly discovered drug users, down by 21.7%. The fact that the number of registered drug users and newly discovered drug users had declined for 5 consecutive years continued to show the achievements made in addressing drug abuse problems.
- The number of drug users continued to decline. Among the registered drug users, 556,000 were using heroin, 793,000 using methamphetamine, 37,000 ketamine and 18,000 cannabis, down by 19%, 18.5%, 9% and 10.7% respectively. The result of waste water analysis demonstrated that the consumption of three types of mainstream drugs, namely heroin, methamphetamine and ketamine, had dropped significantly.
- Diversified drugs were abused. Affected by the decline in drug supply and trafficking, prices of domestic mainstream drugs surged and adulteration happened frequently. Drugs were often unavailable, at high prices or with low purity. Therefore, some drug users had to use less drugs, reduce the frequency, seek alternative narcotics/psychotropic drugs or non-scheduled substances, or become poly-drug users. Since the scheduling of fluoroketamine and synthetic cannabinoids in 2021, the number of identified users first increased and then declined. In some areas, alternative substances such as tobacco powder and e-liquid containing etomidate and metomidate, and kratom leaf containing natural opioids were also found.
- The harm of alternative substances abuse emerged. Public safety would have been affected by incidents caused by users of those substances with manic symptoms, even mental disorders or cardiovascular diseases. Some criminals used psychotropic drugs with sedative, hypnotic and anesthetic effects to make "rape water" and "obedient water" to commit rape, molestation and other criminal activities.
II. Drug sources
Drug seizures in China continued to decline with most of the drugs coming from abroad. In 2021, 17.3 tons of most commonly used drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and ketamine, were seized nationwide, of which 15.3 tons came from overseas, 2 tons from domestic stock or manufacture, down by 21.7% and 48.2% respectively, accounting for 88.6% and 11.4% of the total seizure.
- The "Golden Triangle" area remained China's main drug origin. In 2021, 1.81 tons of heroin were seized, a year-on-year decrease of 52.1%, of which 1.78 tons came from the "Golden Triangle" area and 22 kilograms from the "Golden Crescent" area, accounting for 98.8% and 1.2% of the total seized. In addition, 15 tons of methamphetamine were seized, a year-on-year decrease of 29.3%, of which 13.4 tons were from the "Golden Triangle" area, accounting for 89.3% of the total seized.
- Cocaine from South America was often smuggled into or made transit in China. The year 2021 saw a seizure of 690 kilograms of cocaine, an increase of 18.6% year-on-year. The bulk of cocaine was mainly from South America, destined to other countries and mostly hidden in vessels and containers.
- Cannabis from North America increased significantly. In 2021, 308.9 kilograms of overseas cannabis were seized, an increase of 450% year-on-year. The cannabis was trafficked into 23 provinces in China mainly through small international parcels at high frequency form North America.
2. Domestic drug manufacture
- Domestic drug manufacturing activities continued to wind down. This was the result of the continued special operations targeting drug manufacture and striking on all its aspects. In 2021, 123 drug clan labs were destroyed with 1.2 tons of drugs seized, down by 26.4% and 89% year-on-year respectively. Large-scale drug production activities were curbed, with each drug seizure of less than 1 kilogram in 70 cases (64.2%) , over 10 kilograms each in 6 cases (2.2%), and zero case over 50 kilograms. A few provinces saw sporadic drug production activities with the characteristics of covert location, small scale, distributed processing, and multi-point synthesis.
- Diversion of precursor chemicals declined. The diversion of precursor chemicals in China has been effectively curbed through continuous promotion of precursor management and improvement of narcotics and psychotropic substances control. In 2021, 230 cases involving precursor chemicals were solved with 1,282 tons of precursors seized, a year-on-year decrease of 25.1% and 45.1% respectively. In order to evade legal supervision, criminals updated the synthesis routes and sought for non-scheduled chemicals to make drugs.
III. Drug trafficking
Through the continuous advancement of operation Border Clearing, disruption on the supply chain of drug retailing, cracking down on drug delivery via mail and logistics, etc., drug trafficking activities in China has been greatly reduced. The year 2021 saw 41,000 drug smuggling, trafficking, and transportation cases solved nationwide, with 60,000 offenders arrested and 21.4 tons of drugs seized, down by 12.9%, 12.8% and 51.5% year-on-year respectively. Drug traffickers adjusted their modus operandi and used drug trafficking models that were less affected by the pandemic and with a lower risk of being discovered.
- Trafficking through postal and waterway channels increased. In 2021, 3,741 drug trafficking cases by mail and 18 cases by water were solved, an increase of 24.2% and 63.6% respectively year-on-year. Due to the reduction of domestic drug supply and the impact of the Covid-19, drug trafficking through traditional channels was greatly reduced, while postal services and waterways frequently exploited. Several such cases involving waterways, especially maritime drug traffic in large amounts of drugs, were solved in China's southeastern coastal areas.
- Number of foreign and migrant drug traffickers declined. In 2021, 264 foreign suspects were arrested for drug-related crimes, accounting for 0.4% of the total, down by 43.8% year-on-year, and 9,000 migrant drug traffickers arrested, mostly in China's southwest border and southeast coast areas, accounting for 15.9% of the total with a year-on-year decrease of 16.7%.
- Online and offline drug trafficking were more closely intertwined. There were 5,000 cases of online drug trafficking in 2021, with 8,000 suspects arrested and 500 kilograms of drugs seized, accounting for 9.2%, 10.4% and 2% of the national totals. The drug market continued to expand online featuring separate delivery of money and drugs, drug dealers not selling drugs in person, and non-contact Internet+logistics drug trafficking, etc. Drug transactions shifted from mass chat tools to niche social tools, second-hand trading platforms, game websites and the darknet. Drug-related capital transfers expanded from online banking system to virtual and game currencies. Criminals started to deliver bulk drugs by hiring professional teams and took advantage of logistic companies who did not strictly follow the real-name mailing regulation to send small amounts of drugs.
In 2022, China's narcotics control agencies will continue to carry out their mission and fulfill their responsibilities, adjust measures to meet the challenges posed by the evolving drug situation and the Covid-19, continue to address the root causes of drug demand and supply, stick to the principle of comprehensive and systemic approaches, enhance all-out tactics, improve the drug control mechanism with the Chinese characteristics, prevent and control drug-related risks, and strive to consolidate the improvement of drug situation and expand its coverage in China.
Source: China National Narcotics Control Committee