The world is currently in the midst of a global opioids overdose epidemic. The WHO conservatively estimates 450,000 people died as a result of drug misuse in 2015, with 168,000 of those deaths associated with overdoses. This rate has increased globally by 60% since 2000.

The crisis is fuelled by newly emerging powerful fentanyl-related substances, toxic to humans at the milligram level. Each year new dangerous fentanyl analogues are linked to trafficking and abuse, with deadly consequences.

The Board recognized early on that the alarming increase in overdose deaths from non-medical synthetic opioids threatened to become a global challenge. In response, the Board initiated its global Operational Partnerships to Interdict Opioids' Illicit Distribution and Sales (OPIOIDS) Project. The OPIOIDS Project is the only current international effort solely dedicated to developing partnerships with governments, international agencies and the private sector to share information and intelligence with the goal of identifying and interdicting illicit manufacturers, distributors and vendors of synthetic opioids.

National and international experts on opioids trafficking convened by the INCB in January 2018, found that the synthetic opioids crisis is linked in part to high volume open and anonymous darknet fentanyl-related purchases, with subsequent shipments difficult to interdict through the international letter, parcels and express mail systems. The Universal Postal Union estimated in 2016 that 12% of all international trade was related to international e-commerce purchases, a figure which is only expected to increase.

Online vendors use the surface internet, darknet and social media sites to offer fentanyls. Purchases are made using online payment services or anonymous cryptocurrencies. Shipments are trafficked among the billions of letters and express parcels shipped around the world through international mail and courier services. Details from each online sale, suspicious shipment, drug or illicit laboratory seizure, represents valuable intelligence, when shared.

The thousands of potential fentanyl analogues and the dangers posed from their high toxicity necessitate UN agencies and private partners to engage in practical actions to ensure that regulatory, law-enforcement, emergency personnel, postal and courier services and other 'first-responders' at risk of exposure to these substances can safely carry out their functions and serve their communities.

The global OPIOIDS Project is one of three pillars - along with Project ION and INCB's Public-Private Partnership initiative- of the Global Rapid Interdiction of Dangerous Substances (GRIDS) Programme launched by the Board in 2019.

The Operational Partnerships to Interdict Opioids' Illicit Distribution & Sales (OPIOIDS) Project supports national authorities and international organizations' efforts in preventing nonmedical synthetic opioids and fentanyl-related substances from reaching people, by:

  • Developing international agency and industry partnerships with those who have a practical role to play in responding to the crisis;
  • Increasing awareness regarding the nature and scale of synthetic opioids and fentanyl-related substances problem;
  • Supporting international initiatives that enhance information-sharing and facilitate co-operation for detection and communication of trafficking;
  • Promoting technical assistance and training programmes that ensure safety and security.


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