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Pacific officials gather to address regional drug situation and the need for better information

Bangkok (Thailand), 1 December 2016 - The recently announced UNODC report, Transnational Organized Crime in the Pacific : A Threat Assessment (TOCTA), has found that Pacific island countries are increasingly targeted by drug trafficking groups as transit and destination for a variety of drugs including synthetic drugs, particularly methamphetamine. The finding is in-part a result of trade and travel patterns that are increasing the connection of the Pacific to surrounding regions that are major sources and markets of illicit drugs.

A significant challenge for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and its Member States remains the development and management of illicit drug data and information. Due to resource constraints, the Pacific is missing the research and evidence base many other regions or countries have available to them. Accordingly, one of the key recommendations of the TOCTA report is the development of strategic data and research in the region. The lack of drug data in the Pacific is also recognised in the 'Regional Law Enforcement Information and Intelligence Strategy (2015- 2018)', agreed by leaders of the Pacific following the 38th Pacific Islands Forum.
Against this backdrop, the Global Synthetic Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme has partnered up with the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS) to bring officials of PIFS Member States together to address the lack of regional drug related data and information.

"All Pacific island countries are reporting a rise in transnational organised crime activities, including trafficking of illicit drugs and precursors, which impact security, public health and livelihoods of people in the region," said Steven Francis, Law Enforcement Capacity Development Officer of the PIFS, at the Regional Law Enforcement Planning Development Meeting for the Pacific, held on 28 November in Suva, Fiji . "A fundamental problem for us is very limited data to understand patterns and trends of these crimes and their impact."

Several Member States of PIFS as well as regional organisations that participated in the meeting shared their views on the need to enhance data collection and management capacity in the region. Mr. Tun Nay Soe, UNODC SMART Programme Coordinator (East Asia), re-introduced the SMART programme to participants, focusing on its objectives and systems built throughout the implementation of the programme since its inception in 2008.

"Unfortunately, illicit drug related data remains limited in this region. Without data it is impossible to clearly assess trends, patterns and situations. And, ultimately, it is impossible to develop evidence-based responses," said Mr. Tun. "Based on our experience with countries in other regions, even a modest amount of strategic data helps develop appropriate responses. And in the Pacific it also means being aware of the data in neighboring regions that are sources and markets for illicit drugs and precursors." The meeting participants acknowledged the importance of data collection and management and the role the SMART Programme might play to build capacity in the Pacific island as they meet the commitment of regional leaders.

The meeting also discussed data and information management capacity building activities to be carried out by the SMART Programme in 2017 to support Pacific island countries. "We have identified several areas that need our technical assistance", said Mr. Tun Nay Soe. "We will take into account the recommendations from participating countries as well as the PIFS and regional organisations to target assistance next year."

On 29 November, the SMART Programme also met with investigators and forensic officials from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Fiji Police Force to discuss global illicit drug issues and synthetic drugs, in particular methamphetamine and new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are not listed as controlled substances under the UN drug conventions, but may pose public health threats. Several tools developed by the SMART Programme, including the UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS, were introduced to the Fiji Police Force.

"The UNODC briefing was really useful," said Police Superintendent Eparama Waqa, Deputy Director of the Criminal Investigation Department. "We don't often consider the situation in neighbouring regions and we will need to make sure effective measures are implemented to address what might come."

Click here to learn more about Transnational Organized Crime in the Pacific: A Threat Assessment

Click here to learn more about the Global SMART Programme

Click here to learn more about the UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS