As the economic fallout from the Wuhan virus piles up, its impact on everything from oil prices to airlines is becoming shockingly obvious. Millions of people registering for unemployment and Americans lining up at food banks emphasise the scale of the disaster Beijing has unleashed on the world.

Governments are scrambling to contain the economic fallout, with bailouts and eye-watering stimulus payments.

But…is anyone thinking of the drug dealers?

The COVID-19 pandemic is dealing a gut punch to the illegal drug trade, paralyzing economies, closing borders and severing supply chains in China that traffickers rely on for the chemicals to make such profitable drugs as methamphetamine and fentanyl.

You’d think that with millions of people confined to their houses, drug sales would boom. The problem for the dealers is that no-one is allowed out to score and dealer havens like nightclubs and bars are shut. Like oil companies, cartels are finding that lockdown means a collapse in demand for their product.

At the other end of the economic chain, supply has also dried up. Like everyone else, drug dealers are finding that relying on China as a cheap supplier is a bad strategy.

One of the main suppliers that shut down is in Wuhan, the epicenter of the global outbreak[…]

Synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl have been among the most affected, in large part because they rely on precursor chemicals that Mexican cartels import from China, cook into drugs on an industrial scale and then ship to the U.S[…]

“The quarantine of Wuhan and all the chaos there definitely affected the fentanyl trade, particularly between China and Mexico,” said Ben Westhoff, author of “Fentanyl, Inc.”

“The main reason China has been the main supplier is the main reason China is the supplier of everything — it does it so cheaply,” Westhoff said. “There was really no cost incentive for the cartels to develop this themselves.”

Like any other business, the cartels are nothing if not adaptable.

Some cartels have been taking steps to decrease their reliance on overseas suppliers by enlisting scientists to make their own precursor chemicals.

“Because of the coronavirus they’re starting to do it in house,” added Westhoff.

Some Chinese companies that once pushed precursors are now advertising drugs like hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump has promoted as potential treatment for COVID-19, as well as personal protective gear such as face masks and hand sanitizers.

Which prompts us to wonder how New Zealand’s own criminal gangs are faring and how they might adapt. Will they struggle by, peddling smashed-and-grabbed avocadoes, or will they go broke like so many other businesses?

But, please – nobody pass this post on to the Ardern government. Otherwise, they’ll be announcing stimulus payments for struggling drug dealers. It’s the kind, compassionate thing to do, after all.

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