Sri Lanka: Workshop calls for stronger multilateral cooperation to counter illicit drugs 

Colombo/6-7 May, 2017: A two-day workshop with Sri Lankan law enforcement and regulatory officers underscored the need for sustainable capacity building efforts and greater collaboration and cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies to combat the abuse and trafficking of pharmaceutical drugs containing Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS). Officials at the workshop were also urged to ensure that genuine requirements of drugs for medical and scientific purposes are met while preventing their abuse. 

Pharmaceutical drug abuse has recently emerged as a major health concern in Sri Lanka. The real scale of the problem is unknown, partly due to lack of data on the non-medical use of prescription drugs, and partly to the existence of gaps in the legal policy framework and law enforcement. It is hence imperative to balance two public health needs: ensuring the availability of these controlled substances for medical purposes and preventing their misuse and diversion.

Inaugurated by  Mr. Jayantha Jayasuria, Attorney General of Sri Lanka, the workshop featured 50 officials from key enforcement agencies, such as the National Dangerous Drug Control Board (NDDCB), National Medicine Regulatory Authority, Sri Lankan Customs, Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), Special Task Force, Department of Excise, Prisons Department, Sri Lankan Army, Airforce, Navy, Coast Guard, Aviation Security and the Medical Supplies Division of Ministry of Health. The interactive discussions were led by  Mr. Prabhjeet S. Gulati, Project Officer and Drug Law Enforcement Expert, UNODC;  Prof. Ravindro Fernando, Chairman, NDDCB and  Dr. Rajender Pal Singh, Deputy Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau (India).

Reflecting on the issues and challenges faced by law enforcement agencies worldwide, officials identified the lack of a comprehensive legal framework and weak institutional capacities as major hindrances in responding to the movement of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). Discussions also revolved around the use of internet in fueling drug trafficking as well as drug abuse, rogue internet pharmacies and 'Darknet' marketplaces, and corresponding challenges faced by the law enforcement agencies. 

A key aspect raised in the deliberations was the role and functioning of various international instruments aimed at regulating the import-export of internationally controlled substances. Emphasising the importance of intelligence collection & informant handling in drug cases, participants exchanged views on the principles of intelligence, surveillance techniques, undercover probes and role of technology in surveillance operations. Through various case studies, issues around the smuggling of drugs and novel modi operandi adopted by smugglers were presented brought out before the officials. 

Following the discussion, participants called for a stronger pharmacy monitoring and inspection mechanism, review of schedule of controlled drugs, exhaustive & separate regulations for regulating the controlled drugs and integrated online monitoring of prescription drugs.

The workshop received positive feedback, with many calling the initiative valuable and useful. A similar training meet with representatives of the pharmaceutical trade and industry was also organized, building on the deliberations and issues raised in this workshop.

Key takeaways  

  • Sri Lanka has reported emergence of New Psychoactive Substances such as Khat and Iboga. The Khat plant is reported to be still arriving in the country through postal and courier routes.      
  • It is vital to strengthen the capacities of law enforcement agencies in the region to control the growing problem of abuse and trafficking of controlled drugs. Though laws are, by and large, adequate, the implementation needs to be strengthened and improved.


  • Lack of financial, technical and human resources with law enforcement agencies.
  • Absence of a comprehensive legal framework and weak institutional capacities in responding to the movement of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).
  • Poor understanding and knowledge on the use of internet in fueling drug trafficking as well as drug abuse, rogue internet pharmacies and 'Darknet' marketplaces
  • No institutional mechanism of engagement with pharmacies.
  • Lack of regional cooperation among law enforcement agencies


  • National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) should take lead in capacity building initiatives.
  • Cooperation at international, regional and bilateral levels to counter drug abuse and trafficking should be strengthened.  
  • States parties should make full use of international legal instruments to protect children from drug abuse.
  • Drug control action must be consistent with international human rights standards.
  • Pharmacy monitoring and inspection mechanism should be strengthened.
  • Intelligence collection, surveillance techniques & informant handling in drug cases should be enhanced to secure prosecution.