DUSHANBE -- As Tajik authorities conduct the six-month-long annual anti-drug Operation Kuknor (Poppy), synthetic drugs are one of their many concerns.
Security forces are not just interdicting Afghan drugs at the border or seizing cannabis plantings in Tajikistan. The Drug Control Agency (AKN), in co-operation with other state agencies, is also inspecting pharmacies to detect any illegal sales of psychotropic substances.
"About 60 pharmacies nationwide are authorised to sell ... [controlled] narcotics for medical treatment," Umarjon Emomali, Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman, told Caravanserai. "Others sell psychotropic drugs illegally."
"Preventing drug trafficking is our number-one priority, but taking psychotropic tablets off the street is no less important," added Emomali.
'Ecstasy' and other synthetics
Authorities conducting Operation Kuknor this year are trying to keep the drug "ecstasy" out of Tajikistan, AKN spokesman Khushnud Rakhmatullayev told Caravanserai.
"Lately, the import of synthetic drugs has become a pressing problem," he said. "They [smugglers] chiefly bring them in from European countries, Russia and the Baltics in pill form."
In the first five months of this year, Tajik authorities seized 8,995 such pills, compared to 9,403 during the same period last year, he said.
Psychotropic drugs pose particular danger because they harm the central nervous system immediately, he said.
"That's why such drugs are especially dangerous for young people," he said. "They cause addiction quickly, after two uses. Tajikistan's northern provinces border Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where the border is not marked. Smugglers take advantage of this oversight."
Although not all drug addicts are identifiable or registered, the AKN counted 7,067 addicts nationwide at the end of 2016, a source at the AKN press office told Caravanserai.
The authorities are conducting outreach events nationwide as part of this year's Operation Kuknor, that AKN source told Caravanserai.
"Outreach events occur in kishlaks and mahallas [villages and neighbourhood associations]," said the source. "Meetings will take place in educational institutions with schoolchildren and college students ... at the beginning of the new school year."