TASHKENT -- Uzbekistani authorities are waging a determined effort to reduce drug use among youth, and as part of those efforts, from February 1 through March 1, law enforcement held a month-long nationwide campaign of outreach meetings with college students to explain the consequences of drug use.
"It is very important to protect our youth from destructive addictions so that the younger generation chooses the right path in life," said Interior Ministry (MVD) Lt. Col. Temir Abdullayev, according to his February 22 statement summing up the month-long campaign. "We need to increase their knowledge of the law and to help them form a reliable immunity to ... these addictions."
The meetings were meant to create a friendly environment for warnings of the dangers of drug abuse.
"Experts from the National Information-Analytical Centre on Drug Control [NIACDC] lectured ... about the connection between global problems in modern society: drug addiction, terrorism and human trafficking," NIACDC spokesman Ilyoskhon Arifov told Caravanserai.
Uzbekistan is also looking abroad for partners in fighting drug trafficking. The country is in the process of ratifying a number of agreements with Eastern European countries in particular, the most recent being with Slovakia which took effect February 23.
The Slovakia pact "envisages creation of a co-operation mechanism for fighting illegal drug trafficking as well as overseeing the legal production, distribution and use of chemical precursors," according to a statement from the Uzbekistani Foreign Ministry.
Law enforcers and experts are especially concerned about the synthetic drugs called Spice (a blend of synthetic cannabinoids), which are alarmingly popular among youth.
Spice smoking blends "are much more dangerous than regular narcotics", said Arifov, referring to how naive users consider them harmless and un-addictive.
Adding 80 synthetic drugs to the national list of illegal substances in 2015 was not enough to confront the Spice problem, said Arifov.
"In 2016, the NIACDC formed a task force to amend legislation," he said. "The group concluded in February  that it was essential to amend the Criminal Code and the Administrative Code to fight Spice more effectively."
"The group is discussing a bill with the lower chamber of parliament," said Arifov.
Soon, deputies of the lower chamber will review proposals on strengthening the campaign against Spice, he said.
Though the year is young, law enforcement has conducted several successful counter-narcotics operations already.
The efforts come after authorities registered 5,128 drug-related crimes in the first nine months of 2016, according to the NIACDC. Data for the entire year are not yet available.
In all of 2015, the number of similar crimes was 6,648.
On February 6, a court in Termez District, Surkhandarya (Surxondaryo) Province, sentenced an Afghan national to 19 years in prison for trying to smuggle more than 4kg of opium into Uzbekistan.
Gulom, the Afghan would-be smuggler, tried to "cross over to the Uzbekistani side of the [Amu Darya] river on a homemade raft", Podrobno.uz reported February 6.
Corruption in law enforcement
Authorities consider it essential to eradicate corruption in their own ranks if they want to defeat drug trafficking.
At the end of February, the General Prosecutor's Office reported the arrest of a police investigator in Tashkent Province who stands accused of taking bribes to help drug offenders escape punishment.
"In Chirchik, Muzaffar Nurmatov, a local police investigator, was caught red-handed while accepting a bribe of $1,500 [5.1 million UZS]," General Prosecutor's spokesman Arif Atajanov told Caravanserai.
Nurmatov has confessed, said Atajanov.