News from EU4Monitoring Drugs, an EMCDDA technical cooperation project

This content was published in the EU4MD update released on 01.10.2020. This update also presents a section on studies, upcoming events, and a research corner.

Focus on the impact of COVID-19 on drug markets, use and services in the eastern ENP region

On 28 September 2020, the EMCCDA released the first publication in the framework of the EU4Monitoring Drugs project, which presents the key results of an EMCDDA trendspotter study. This study was prepared in consultation with some 30 experts from all six eastern European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) countries.

The report highlights the following changes in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic across the eastern ENP region:

  • Drug markets — Signs of supply chain disruption were seen in a reduction in the volume and number of seizures at borders and in increases in retail-level prices for certain types of drugs in some countries. At retail level, contactless drug dealing activities prevailed, prompted by national restrictions on movement, heightened public order measures and strategies to restrict person-to-person contact. Law-enforcement activities were also affected, with fewer drug law offences reported, reflecting a shift in policing priorities towards ensuring public safety.
  • Drug use and drug-related harms — Sources suggest that the availability of most illicit substances smuggled into the region (e.g. heroin, MDMA, amphetamines, cocaine) decreased, which is thought to have led to a reduction in their use. In some contexts, this appears to have resulted in greater use of licit substitutes (e.g. alcohol, pharmaceuticals), frequently in combination with illicit drugs. Cannabis use appears to be the least affected.
  • Drug services — Drug-related services, in some countries, reduced their offer in the early lockdown period, restricting access for new clients. At the same time, in most of the six countries, drug services and NGOs adapted their policies and protocols to ensure the uninterrupted provision of treatment services (e.g. offering take-home OST, online consultations and mobile services for needle and syringe exchange).

The report concludes that, in the coming months, national authorities may need to consider how to maintain innovative approaches adapted for service provision. They will also need to ensure that practitioners and law-enforcement officers are adequately equipped and skilled to work in the environment where online communication and digital tools may start to dominate.

Read the report in English and summaries of the report in Azerbaijani, Armenian, Belarussian, Georgian, Ukrainian and Romanian.

Spotlight on partner countries

Republic of Moldova

The EU4MD contact person on drug-related security matters in his country, Mr Dumitru Vleju, main officer in the Department for policy on preventing and combating crime in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Moldova, provides insight regarding the drug situation in the Republic of Moldova. He highlights the main challenges and threats faced and reflects on successful national efforts and his views on future cooperation with the EU4MD project.

1. What are the main drug-related challenges facing the Republic of Moldova?

The internet-based drug trade is one of the main challenges we are currently facing. The increase in new online drug sales schemes leads to a diversity of drugs available on drug markets, especially new synthetic drugs. This somehow facilitates the access to a wide drug market that is more difficult to control.Moldova’s geographical location makes it increasingly attractive and convenient for illicit drug trafficking, thus, consolidating to some extent the ‘transit country’ status for Moldova.Drug possession for personal use remains a crime and, if a person is caught with illicit drugs for their personal use, this may lead to imprisonment. This practice of the criminal justice system, although obsolete, hinders the access of people who use drugs to treatment and their return to a healthy life within society.

2. What are the current security threats related to drugs in your country?

This year has shown us how vulnerable law enforcement is in the hi-tech/IT domains. The main threat is caused by the following identified vulnerabilities; insufficient capacity to monitor online sales, the use of different social media and ‘messenger’ type applications, difficulty to detect online bots, proxy servers and, of course, delayed response by law enforcement.Historically, the main issue of drug trafficking has been ‘delivery’. Nowadays, this stage is well managed by the thousands of binary assistants controlled by one IT specialist. As a consequence, organised crime is increasingly reoriented to the IT sector and hi-tech technologies, thus switching from the offline world to the ‘online world’. This shift makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and trace drug-related operations, as well as to clearly differentiate between drug users and persons involved in drug-related criminal activities.

3. What has been done to address the challenges posed by drugs?

In Moldova, we have been focusing on improving the regulatory framework by approving the new National Anti-Drug Strategy for 2020-2027. This policy document proposes a comprehensive, interdisciplinary and balanced approach to drug-related issues, based on integrated collaboration and evidence, focusing on decreasing the drugs demand, reducing drug supply, and conducting risk assessment.Furthermore, we focused on streamlining the strategic and operational cooperation with national law enforcement agencies and international counterparts and specialised organisations.

4. Where and how can the EU4MD project make a difference?

We have already benefited from numerous capacity building activities through the project. We are confident that the project can further contribute towards enhancing our ability to respond to continuously evolving drug-related challenges and threats. From the perspective of the Ministry of the Interior, we would like to see more training on: the unique features of drug markets; criminal analysis; assessment of the impact of drug production on the environment; identification of ‘hot spots’; mapping drug production dynamics and trafficking; technological advancements and innovation; assessment and response to drug-related threats. We also hope to continue to exchange experiences with EU countries on developing anti-drug strategies. Finally, it is extremely important to enhance sharing of standard evidence and methodologies designed for the examination of psychotropic substances, their analogues and precursors.

Palestine *

Brigadier General Yousef Ozreil, Head of the National Programme of Drug Control, Crime Prevention and Enhanced Criminal Justice System and the EU4MD counterpart in Palestine, gives his views on the drug situation in his country, highlighting main challenges and threats, and reflecting on successful national efforts and his views on future cooperation with the EU4MD project.

1.  What are the main drug-related challenges facing Palestine?

The drug problem remains a concern because it affects adversely not only our homeland in general but also our citizens. Control of illicit drug turnover is a national priority. Our administration has adopted workplans and implemented approaches based on several integrated axes with the ultimate aim of achieving a safe society. The Palestinian Police, and the Drug Control Department in particular, work hard to limit the spread of drugs and to control the routes of their smuggling, trade, distribution, and cultivation. Their work has contributed to a reduction in the supply and demand for drugs in addition to strengthening community awareness of the dangers of drug use.

2.  What are the current drug-related challenges?

Our main concern remains drug-related crime. One of the issues is the illegal cultivation of narcotic substances in Palestine, especially in the border areas such as the east with Jordan, as well as the areas close to the separation barrier. We are also concerned about innovation and advanced technologies, such as using hydroponics in the cultivation process.‘Synthetic cannabis’ (our way of referring to synthetic cannabinoids) seems to have a market and demand in our population. There are also some indications of its production, and the main concern is the toxicity of these substances.Illicit drug use among young people may be increasing, according to the reports from my colleagues in the Ministry of Health.Israel has decriminalised recreational cannabis for personal use and the use of medicinal cannabis is emerging rapidly. There are many companies cultivating medical cannabis, and Israel is also one of the leading cannabis exporters to other countries which have introduced medicinal cannabis. In Israel, medicinal cannabis is sold in pharmacies and there seems to be growing demand for it. We are concerned that this trend may encourage cultivation in Palestine.The emergence of new ways and models for smuggling drugs is another challenge. This year in particular we have been concerned about the volume of drugs smuggled via express mail.Finally, the Palestinian Authority has limited control and monitoring of cross-border trafficking, and this mainly affects our ability to follow-up drug cases and prosecution for drug-related crime. Moreover, our legal framework and practices for the prosecution of drug-related crime remain weak, which opens the door for the dismissal of cases.

3.  What has been done to address the challenges posed by drugs?

Our Drug Enforcement Administration is focusing on arresting and prosecuting drug traffickers, dealers, and those who have committed repeat offences. As a result, we have observed relocation of cultivation within the Palestinian lands and this business moving closer to the borders in the Jordan Valley and near the separation barrier

4.  Where and how the European Union can make a difference?

EUPOL COPPS is one of our primary partners in the field of drug control, and cooperation is on-going and developing. So far it has provided us with technical and logistical support, equipment, and specialised courses to combat the scourge of drugs, as well as to learn about new methods of smuggling.  Since the start of the EU4Monitoring drugs project, our law enforcement officers have already attended several international training sessions with European partners. This experience should stimulate them to improve their practice when it comes to drug monitoring and reporting.

(*) This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the Member States on this issue.