2017 HIGHLIGHTS: New Psychoactive Substances are in the Focus of the UNODC Drug Law Enforcement Agenda in Central Asia

Expansion of markets for synthetic drugs and new psychoactive substances (NPS) worldwide has become a stable trend. Production of such drugs does not depend on ingredients from traditional drug plants and therefore emergence of their production and trafficking may not always match geographic patterns typical of traditional drug markets. On the other hand, by definition, synthetic drugs and NPS, pose new challenges in terms of law enforcement as they may require new skill set and knowledge backed by effective legislative frameworks to effectively counter their expansion.

According to the data from UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS, the number of NPS reported in Central Asian countries has significantly increased over the years.The numbers of NPS reported in Central Asia has risen to 31 in 2015 and to 48 in 2016 with almost all countries of the region reporting seizures of NPS, whereas only one NPS was reported in the Central Asian region both in 2013 and 2014.

A new component of activities aimed at countering synthetic drugs and NPS in Central Asia was developed in 2016 in the framework of the UNODC Programme for Central Asia (2015-2019) with the goal to strengthen law enforcement efforts in the regionagainst the emerging threat of synthetic drugs and NPS. This initiative is supported and funded by the Government of Japan, which provided US$ 630,000 for the implementation of the activities in 2016 and 2017.

The activities implemented under the component included supporting member countries in the region through the provision of technical assistance,with the delivery of training courses, procurement of specialized equipment and promoting regional cooperation through joint activities including meetings, regional workshops and regional operations. Over the implementation period, a total of five specialized training courses were delivered and equipment was procured with total value of US$230,000. Moreover, eight national level expert meetings on NPS were conducted.

Expert Meetings

During the implementation period of the activity component, two rounds of national expert meetings on synthetic drugs and NPS were facilitated by UNODC in Astana, Kazakhstan, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

In the first round, four expert meetingswere held in November and December 2016. The meetings were used tofurther assess the specific needs of the region.In the meetings, UNODC provided presentations on the initial phase of the initiative,discussingthe main goals, planned outcomes, parameters, initial list of equipment to be procured, and training courses with the participants .Taking into consideration the comments of the beneficiary countries and the findings of the assessment, the procurement needs and training courses were refined in accordance with international best practices. During the follow-up actions to these meetings, aworkplan of the activities including the list of training courses and the lists of equipment to be procured for each country was finalized and approved.

The second round of expert meetings was conducted in November 2017. During the expert meetings beneficiariesreported on the results of the component, including the training workshops conducted and procurement of specialized equipment. The meetings were also used to gather proposals on developing the concept and workplanfor continuation of theinitiative.During these meetings, the beneficiary agencies were also handed over the equipment procured.

Regional training workshops

Regional training workshops constituted an important element of the implemented activities.A series of five training courses were delivered on different aspects of countering synthetic drugs and NPS ranging from introductory and theoretical topics to hands-on training anda study-visit.

The first training in the series on "International Cooperation, Monitoring, and Reporting on NPS"was delivered on the 3  rdand 4  thof May 2017 for 19 law enforcement officers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as for experts of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC). The training course was delivered by Mr. Martin Raithelhuber, Illicit Synthetic Drug Expert and Manager of the UNODC Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme.

This training had an introductory/theoretical approach. The training course contained classroom/table-top exercise along with presentations, video materials, Q&A sessions, group work exercises and the exchange of information between the participants. The topics covered included introduction to synthetic drugs and NPS; global and regional NPS trends; challenges of NPS for law enforcement, health service providers and international and national legislative control and responses to the challenges.

The second training workshop on "Risk Assessment and International Cooperation in Countering NPS" was delivered in Almaty, Kazakhstan from 22  nd to 24  thAugust, 2017 for 16 law enforcement officers from the Central Asian states and CARICC experts. The training workshop was facilitated by Mr. Fumio Ito, Project Manager of Project ION (International Operations on NPS) at the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

During the training, presentations were made on the global situation of NPS and INCB's response to the problems through facilitating law enforcement cooperation by promoting a special NPS Incident Communication System. The discussions also covered a variety of approaches in national control, legal and regulatory tools including catch-all provisions and voluntary information sharing of NPS trade through the Internet, and linkages and coordination with forensic laboratories. The participants also learnt about typical risk factors in detecting illicit NPS shipments, including patterns of misdeclaration and how substances are concealed.

The distinctive feature of this training was that participants were encouraged to share their country specific experience on NPS, national NPS control and on trends in NPS trafficking and risk factors in detecting shipments of NPS and other controlled substances in their respective countries.

The third training workshop was organized on clinical aspects on NPS and was delivered on 23-25 October in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in collaboration with UNODC Global Project"Treating drug dependence and its health consequences: Treatnet II".

The Regional Training brought together 26 specialists from four Central Asian states. The training was conducted by international trainers from the United Kingdom specializing in NPS.

Participants of the training got acquainted with the different types of NPS currently available on the market, signs, symptoms associated with acute and long-term use/misuse, learnt how to identify, diagnose, treat NPS intoxication or dependence as well as have gained knowledge and understanding about NPS categories, trend of NPS use, its health and social consequences.

The fourth training activity was organized in the form of study visit to Italy from 7  th to 10  thNovember 2017 for eight law enforcement officers from Central Asia to learn from the experience of Italian law enforcement agencies in countering drugs, including NPS, as well as their field operative methods. The study visit was organized in partnership with the Embassy of Italy in Uzbekistan and the Italian Central Directorate for Anti-Drug Services (DSCA).

The programme covered visits to the DSCA Headquarters,International Operations' Room of the International Police Cooperation Service, Special Operations' Group of the General Command of Carabinieri, ItalianRailway Police units at "Rome Termini" train station, Operational Aeronautical Command of Pratica di Mare military base, Finance Police units in territory of the Leonardo da Vinci international airport, Scientific Police Service of the State Police and Precursors Chemical Laboratory.

During the visits, the delegates received firsthand knowledge pertaining to legislative, institutional and administrative aspects of the organizations visited; learned about daily workflow, international and national operations, practical cases, investigation techniques, special technical means and other work aspects of the agencies.

The participants also learned about various mechanisms of international law enforcement cooperation in the framework of INTERPOL, EUROPOL and other platforms effectively used by their colleagues in Italy.

The fifith training was delivered on  "Usage of field test kits and hand-held identification devices in identification of drugs  " from 14th to 16th November in Astana, Kazakhstan for 19 law enfocement officers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.The training was organized in cooperation with the Kazakhstan General Prosecutor's Office Law Enforcement Academy. The training course was delivered by a group of police officers from the UNODC supportedPrecursor Control Unit of the Counter Narcotic Police of Afghanistan (CNPA).

The training course applied a practical format and included sessions on operation principles of the "TruNarc"portable drugs/precursor analyzer and field drug test kits. During the training special sessions were allocated for hands-on exercises using thedevice to identify provided real drug samples. After demonstrations by the instructors, the participants were given the opportunity to perform scans of various drugs and precursors on their own.

At the end of the training, the participants learned about general principals of operation, guidelines for safe operation, advantages as well as the limitations of field drug aidentificationd devices in practice. Instructors from Afghanistan also presented information on operations conducted by CNPA in Afghanistan where they widely apply TruNarc devices and field test kits.

Procurement of equipment

The activities under the component also included procurement of IT and specizlied equipment for the beneficiary agencies. Individual lists of equipment for each country has been developed based on the results of needs assessment and follow-up feedback from the beneficiaries.

Equipment hand-over ceremonies were held along with the second round of expert meeting in November 2017 in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The equipment purchased for the beneificaries included field rapid drugs tests, contraband search and inspection kits, photo and video recording equipment, laptops and printers (with total value of about US$ 230,000).

The results of the activity component so far demonstrated that the Central Asian states understandthe challenges posed by synthetic drugs and NPS.

Beneficiaries appreciateUNODC assistance in increasingtheir capacity in countering synthetic drugs and NPS as well as efforts to facilitate regional and international cooperation. They also stressed the importance of continuing and expanding the workby UNODC in this area.

To this end,UNODC plans to develop continuation of the activity component based on the proposals received from the Central Asian countries and conclusions from the first phase. The UNODC Regional Office in Central Asia will develop a systematic and sustainable approach which will enhance institutional capacities of member countries in the region to effectively fight against the threats of synthetic drugs NPS.

Finally, UNODC extends its special thanks to the Government of Japan for generously funding the activities, their support for the mission of UNODC and the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).