New drugs gaining popularity via online stores in Ukraine

Author : Tetiana Sviatenko

Respondent : Andriy Kikhtenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Head of the Department of Drug Control Andriy Kikhtenko about new and most widespread types of drugs, their users, contactless methods of selling dealing, and how police are fighting with it
23:16, 5 July 2018

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Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

Is the drug situation in Ukraine really catastrophic today?

This problem is typical for the whole world, and Ukraine is not an exception. The world market for illicit drugs is changing; this is due to globalization and the development of the technologies. The Internet plays a great role in the drug trade. There are new "contactless" marketing methods for drug criminals. More and more people become drug criminals.

Why is it happening?

This is the main audience of the Internet users, they understand the technology and know how to maintain their anonymity in cyberspace. They have opened wide opportunities, including those related to illegal activities. Previously, in order to engage in a "serious" level of drug trafficking, it was necessary to have a criminal biography, some weight in the criminal world, communications and so on. And now people without criminal experience find their accomplices at specialized forums and organize the drug dealing schemes. And all this is carried out without direct contacting; people often work together for several years and never meet each other, moreover, they do not even know the real names of their partners.

What are the most popular drugs in Ukraine?

In Ukraine, just like in Europe, the most common drug is cannabis. The usual user of it is young people. Opiates take the second place - opium, poppy, their synthetic counterparts (for example, methadone) are becoming popular. Amphetamine-type stimulants are on the third place – amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy). And only then, new psychoactive substances come.

Related: 346,000 injection drug users detected in Ukraine, - Healthcare Ministry

The market for new psychoactive substances in Ukraine occupies a small share, but it is developing. A similar situation is in the EU countries. Europeans are more wealthy, so speaking about opiates, they prefer heroin. And heroin is not so common here, because we have some cheaper analogs. Therefore, the supply of heroin is mainly transited to Europe.

The same situation is with cocaine. In more developed countries it is more accessible and popular. Our users, as a rule, belong to a certain class of wealthy people. Therefore, it is considered a so-called "elite" drug.

That is, the situation is still tense, right?

I would say, the situation is controlled. But we need to understand that in order to effectively combat drug-related crime and, in general, everything related to illicit drug trafficking and its consequences for society, an integrated approach is needed. I mean interaction of state bodies, public and international organizations, business communities (entrepreneurs engaged in postal services, digital payment platforms, etc.). Right now, the Department together with the Ministry of Health is forming the Action Plan for the implementation of the State Drug Policy Strategy. For the last three years, the country had no any drug policy strategy.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Health and other subjects of the implementation of the state drug policy, we have developed the Procedure for classifying substances as analogs of drugs and psychotropics. Unfortunately, we have been coordinating it for the last few years. This Procedure enables establishing state control within two months after the detection of new psychoactive substances in illicit trafficking. This is a very important step that will significantly strengthen our position in the fight against their illicit trafficking. Now, for example, about 80 types of new psychoactive substances that were seized by law enforcement agencies of Ukraine over the past few years are still not included in the list of controlled substances. That is, it is impossible to attract drug criminals to criminal liability for the distribution of these substances, which in fact are synthetic analogs of drugs. Therefore, the majority of new psychoactive substances are sold openly as a legal alternative to illicit drugs, and their producers use the gaps in legislation, literally every day developing an increasing number of these analogs.

Related: School deputy principal busted with storing ammunition and drugs, faking documents

What is the danger of such substances? How do they differ from conventional drugs?

New psychoactive substances, as I said before, are synthetic analogs of the traditional substances. In fact, these are the same drugs, however, they are not included in the list of drugs, psychotropic substances, and precursors. Dozens of new types of drugs appear on the world market every year. They are sold under the guise of "legal" drugs mainly through the Internet. They are cheaper, and therefore more affordable. Often, new psychoactive substances are sold under the guise of "traditional" drugs, because they are divided into certain groups by their pharmacology. For example, a group of stimulants includes substances that are similar to cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and ecstasy. And this is often used by the drug traffickers - they sell these new psychoactive substances under the guise of cocaine or methamphetamine. And many of them do not understand what they are selling at all. The slang names of these substances are "salt", "mix", "spice", "speed", etc. And when we remove them and conduct an examination, we understand that this is AKB-48, PVP, AB-FUBINAKA or some kind of JWH. And all these are especially dangerous psychotropic substances, the turnover of which is already banned in the country. In the end, it turns out that some do not know what they are selling, and others do not know what they are consuming. This is a great risk to the health of the users. When a person after using an unknown substance enters a hospital with severe poisoning, doctors do not know how to help her. After all, there is no data on the toxicity of new psychoactive substances.

What are the difficulties with capturing drug traffickers who sell goods via the Internet?

Drug trafficking through the Internet is developing much faster than effective mechanisms for collecting combating it.

Related: Health Ministry starts talking about easing punishment for drug addicts

The Internet has blurred all the boundaries, members of one criminal group often reside in different countries and have never met each other.

For example, there is an Internet resource on which Ukrainian users buy drugs. The person who administers this resource can be anywhere in the world. Speaking about the post-Soviet space, now it is convenient to do it from Russia, as well as from Belarus, Moldova, etc. That is, the person, who directly administers the Internet resource, informs the Ukrainian buyer where to take the drug, and this person is often in the territory of another country.

And the other part of this criminal group is constantly confronted with drugs, but never contacts their customers. They organize their supply to Ukraine (often via international mail or other non-contact methods), dose packaging and contactless marketing. Members of the group who put the drugs into special hiding places around the city, they almost never have direct contact with the organizers of drug supplies. All instructions are received through the Internet, including the place of storage of another batch of drugs. In the end, this is the most vulnerable part of the group, the so-called "expendable material" for their leader. Their work is arranged in such a way that in case of detention they are out of the police’s operational interest.

How does the whole scheme of selling drugs through the Internet work? Who is the main consumer in Ukraine?

The main consumer is the youth. Some refer to their health without the needed responsibility. They are ready to experiment with their body. They can easily find a specialized website or forum on the sale of drugs. Thanks to contactless sales, they do not need to contact criminals and take some risks. It's enough just to get a smartphone out of your pocket, pay your order through some digital payment platform, get the exact coordinates of the place where your ziplock is hidden, and just pick up the "goods".

Related: Police detained 17 people with drugs in Kyiv nightclub

I believe all of us have seen special inscriptions on the walls of houses and fences with advertising drugs online stores. How do these inscriptions appear? Basically, they are inflicted by young people, users of these online resources, for obtaining discounts on drugs or for monetary compensation.

The psychoactive substances are mistakenly perceived by the young people as a safe alternative to the traditional drugs. Because they are sold under the guise of legal drugs that are "less" dangerous, even “safer” than ordinary cigarettes or alcohol. But in fact, the opposite is true.

Several years ago we started to hold meetings and presentations for the employees of the departments of education, healthcare, family affairs, youth, and sports, etc. We told what are new psychoactive substances, how they are sold online, explained how the city's infrastructure is used by drug criminals as an advertising platform, etc.

Then we began to organize a meeting with the public utility services. These services identified the advertising graffiti of Internet sites for the sale of drugs, photographed them, sent us and informed the building's owners that they should remove these inscriptions. We, receiving this information, systematized, analyzed it, established geography of sales, types of drugs and other information necessary to start documenting criminal activities.

Are anti-terrorist operation zone and uncontrolled territories somehow used by the drug dealers?

There are criminal drug groups on the temporarily uncontrolled territories but we have no information confirming them.

Related: Ukrainian border guards seized 200 kg of drugs since beginning of 2017

If we talk about smuggling channels, the so-called "Northern route" of heroin supplies (from Afghanistan through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia to Ukraine and further to the EU countries) really went through Donetsk region. But also, record heroin parcels, which entered our country via the Northern Route, went through the Sumy region. That is, we have other border areas with the Russian Federation, which can be used by the international drug groups without additional risks associated with hostilities.

The geographical location of Ukraine, developed infrastructure, the availability of seaports, airports, etc., make our country attractive for international criminal drug groups, primarily for the transit of drugs to the EU.

In recent years, we note that annually, only as a result of detentions by our and foreign law enforcement agencies, more than two tons of heroin is seized, the routes of which were transported through Ukraine. Often, detentions are carried out on the Caucasian branch of the "Balkan route" in Azerbaijan and Georgia, before the prohibited goods approach our borders.

Also, sea trading ports can be used for international supplies of cocaine, heroin, psychotropic substances, such as Captagon, etc. But this relates to the supply of drugs on a, particularly large scale. If we talk about international drug delivery channels, which are carried out by the drug traffickers, then it usually refers to the size of 1 to 5 kg. Cocaine, for example, is usually delivered by air from Latin America to secret luggage offices or by so-called courier swallowers, heroin comes from Asia, and new psychoactive substances are delivered from China by the international mail.

Related: UNICEF: Ukrainian youngsters consume less alcohol and drugs

What are Ukraine’s largest networks?

The industrialized regions, where capital and money are concentrated, are a fertile ground for drug trafficking. In the central and eastern regions, the drug situation is more complicated than in the western regions. We pay special attention to Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia regions and, of course, to Kyiv. If we talk about Western Ukraine, then these are the Transcarpathian, Volyn, Lviv, and Rivne regions.

What is the most common way of selling drugs in Ukraine? Nightclubs, in the old manner, or through hiding places?

It all depends on the type of drug and the category of consumers. Young people often buy via the Internet, these are new psychoactive substances, amphetamine-type stimulants, and cannabis. Ethnic groups selling methadone prefer to also use the contactless method of selling (via the so-called "hiding places"), they communicate with consumers via cell phones.

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