CRIMJUST - Operation Azure targeting synthetic opioid trafficking in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean results in 18 arrests and the seizure of over 480 kg of drugs

7 and 8 December 2021 - With a total of 125 illicit drug seizures, “Operation Azure” saw law enforcement officers from 10 countries intercept illicit drugs and disrupt synthetic opioid trafficking across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

On 7 and 8 December 2021, UNODC, under the framework of the CRIMJUST Global Programme, held a debrief meeting for Operation Azure in the Dominican Republic bringing together the operational coordinators from nine countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa to showcase the main operational outcomes in each country and to make recommendations for subsequent joint actions. 

Operation Azure took place simultaneously in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Nigeria, and Ghana. Coordinated by UNODC, under the framework of the CRIMJUST Global Programme, as part of the UNODC Opioid Strategy, Operation Azure targeted synthetic opioids being trafficked in mail and courier parcels over two phases of operational activity in October and November 2021.

The operational activity focused on mail and courier centres in 10 countries, where physical searches were carried out on packages determined to be at risk of containing drugs. The operatives utilised new electronic field drug Raman testing devices provided to them as part of Operation Azure, as well as drawing on the skills and knowledge from training in profiling, safe handling of synthetic drugs and the use of the drug detecting devices provided by CRIMJUST and the UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Services.

As a result of this operation:

The technical assistance provided as part of Operation Azure provided the impetus and expertise to encourage participants to not only safely and effectively target and identify illicit substances in parcels, but to investigate beyond interdiction activities. Following drug seizures, law enforcement official in Nigeria or in Peru reached out to counterparts in other countries in an effort to carry out a cross-border controlled delivery and disrupt the responsible criminal network.

Moreover, Operation Azure enhanced criminal justice cooperation between participating countries to coordinate future joint operations. Of note, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia established the necessary operational contacts and trust during the training period in Bogota to plan and carry out a separate operation. This involved a controlled delivery across the four countries, culminating in the seizure of 1.1 tons of cannabis and in the arrest of two individuals.

 “This is the time to take evidence-based action to stem the synthetic drug crisis”, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said of the agency's response to a rapidly growing global problem. (Commission on Narcotic Drugs - CND on 19 November 2021.)

 Building Capacity

 Between September and October 2021, through Operation Azure, CRIMJUST delivered 18 trainings to some 153 officials, including 42 female officers, from twelve countries across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. These trainings ensured that the practitioners across the criminal justice chain had the skills required to undertake this operation, as well equipped them with the tools to tackle the trafficking of synthetic opioids.

 The trainings covered several topics ranging from “Profiling of Synthetic Opioids in Mail and Small Parcels”, “Providing Forensic Evidence in Synthetic Opioid Cases”, the “Safe Handling of Synthetic Opioids”, and the “Use of Raman Drug Detecting Device and Crime Scene Kits”. Officers were also trained on the Use of Special Investigative Techniques: Controlled deliveries to trace and map out criminal structures via controlled deliveries following a drug seizure. As part of this effort, CRIMJUST provided Tru-Narc drug testing devices as well as of a crime scene kits to each country. 

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By enhanced capacities and skills ahead of the operation, participating countries were able to better target the trafficking of synthetic opioids, suspects, networks and hotspots. In their feedback, while judicial officials commended CRIMJUST for leading efforts to share international standards and jurisprudence to acquire admissible evidence when prosecuting synthetic opioids cases, front-line officials and forensic experts found the trainings on profiling and safe handing to be extremely relevant. Not only did participants report a stronger understanding of profiling techniques as well as of relevant risk indicators, some officials stated they had been unaware of the risks posed by some controlled substances or chemicals. They had found UNODC trainings instrumental in streamlining safer and more effective targeting techniques.

As highlighted by Glen Prichard, through Operation Azure, CRIMJUST under the framework of UNODC Opioid Strategy, adapted its strategy and combined training, technical guidance and operational activity as a holistic end-to-end approach to respond to the opioid crisis. 

For more information, please visit:

-  Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)

- European Union - Global Illicit Flows Programme

- UNODC Opioid Strategy