Armenia's law enforcement department has warned of a rising trend in narcotics trafficking and abuse in the country.
A senior official in charge of the country's anti-organized crimes agency, however, has disclosed that 1,152 cases of drug trafficking had been busted in the first nine months of this year, according to news reaching here.
Without elaborating on the amount so far seized in the South Caucasus country, the authorities said the largest reported single haul was made in April in Armenia's tourist resort of Lake Sevan, where 10 kg of heroin, 5 kg of methamphetamine and 2 kg of cocaine were confiscated.
Nazaret Mnatsakanyan, deputy chief of the organized crime squad, said Armenia was analyzing drug abuse and trafficking trends and authorities had already taken some measures to reverse the trend.
"As preventive measures, we are conducting operations Canal and Hemp-Poppy," Mnatsakanyan said. "The goal of Canal is to focus on transit of Afghan opium, Colombian cocaine, synthetic drugs as well as weapons, ammunition and wanted persons through the territory of Armenia."
"The goal of the Hemp-Poppy is to discover and destroy wild and grown hemp and poppy plants," he said.
Armenia has agreed to cooperate and coordinate with Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries in boosting the country's anti-narcotics efforts. The country conducts the Canal operation twice a year and Hemp-Poppy once a year.
But Armenian anti-narcotics officials know their efforts cannot be overemphasized, as, between 2003 and 2009, the country's drug abuse and trafficking trend has increased sharply.
In 2003, Armenian police seized about 7 kg of narcotic drugs, of which 6.5 kg was marijuana and 38 grams opium. In 2006, 19 kg of the 26 kg of seized drugs was marijuana and 4.5 kg opium.
But last year, law enforcers seized 57 kg of drugs, including 27 kg of marijuana and almost as much in opium.
The biggest increase was the amount of heroin seized by police. In 2009, 79 grams of heroin was seized in Armenia, where a year ago only 0.5 grams of the same drug was seized.
According to Mnatsakanyan, marijuana and opium come primarily from Afghanistan and there were more "drug pushers" than there were "drug users" in Armenia, where most drug abusers are young and middle-aged people.
"These figures arouse a serious concern, since they indicate an increase of the number of opium users as compared to (that of) marijuana users," Mnatsakanyan said.
Armenia is setting up an information and analysis subdivision under its national anti-narcotics agency to better coordinate with its analytical counterparts in such CSTO member states as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
Initial analyses worried Mnatsakanyan however, in that Armenia may in time become a destination instead of a transit country for international drug trafficking.
"It is more convenient and safe for a drug courier to carry drugs from Turkey directly to Georgia and not through Armenia," he said, adding that using Armenia as an additional transit country enhanced the risk of detection for drug couriers.
As a result, more opium is being trafficked from Iran into Armenia itself instead of travelling through it to other countries, according to police monitoring.
Of the 44 foreign nationals detained in Armenia for smuggling narcotics for eventual sale in the country, 35 were from Iran.
"Opiates or so-called chernyashkas are smuggled into Armenia mainly from Iran," said Hunan Pogosyan, deputy chief of the Armenian national police force. "As opposed to a few years ago, when uncovering five or 10 grams of opium was considered an outstanding achievement, now we seize kilos of them."
The South Caucasus region, Armenia included, cannot avoid being affected by the drug trade because it lies right on the drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to European countries. Trade of opiates generates 25 million U.S. dollars worth of turnover for Afghanistan a year.
Based on data so far accumulated, Armenian law enforcement is expecting a record haul of narcotics this year.
The anti-narcotics police have found drug traffickers using containers, clothing and even human bodies to carry drugs into Armenia.
The more the drugs are available on local streets, the more it is feared local people will begin using them.
"Recently in Armenia, the number of marijuana smokers has roughly equalled the number of heavy drug (intravenous) users, which causes concern," said Mnatsakanyan, adding that previously the ratio of smokers to injectors was 70 to 30.
And what also worries authorities is the street value of narcotics in Armenia.
"Today, one of the most painful things is that illegal drug turnover is very attractive as a business," said S. Sanamyan, head of drug smuggling control at the Armenian state revenue committee. "In Iran, one gram of chernyashka (opiate) costs one U.S. dollar, and in Armenia, AMD 20,000 (55.5 dollars)."
"Is there any other business that can make such huge profits? That is why many people are enticed," he said.
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