Artificial intelligence to be used to identify and block drug sites — Akhmetzhanov

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has developed a comprehensive plan to combat drug addiction and drug business for 2023-2025. This was reported by Marat Akhmetzhanov, head of the ministry, at the Government session today.

The interior minister began his speech by listing the main objectives of the comprehensive plan:

  • suppression of highly dangerous types of drugs, especially synthetic drugs;
  • introduction of an early detection system for drug abuse;
  • the formation of a register of people who use drugs;
  • Increasing the competence and status of the responsible authorities;
  • Strengthening of the material and technical base.

The comprehensive plan, unlike previous documents, has a number of features. According to the minister, previously the agency dealt only with criminal prosecutions and the main objective was to expose. The task of coordination has been relegated to the back burner.

"Due to the lack of systematic funding, the logistical condition has declined. As a result, fighting only the consequences and not the causes of drug addiction prevailed," Akhmetzhanov said.

The draft comprehensive plan defines:

- the coordination function of the Ministry of Internal Affairs;

- the tasks of each body;

- most of the activities are aimed at preventing drug-related crime;

- funding levels have been approved.

More than 2,000 citizens and about 10 NGOs were involved in drafting the document. International experience has also been studied.

The draft plan was discussed in Almaty in 2022 at the Central Asian Regional Coordination Centre (CARICC) with the participation of international organisations (UNODC, CSTO, SCO, OSCE), competent authorities from Central Asia, Belarus, Russia and the US, as well as several experts.

In general, the drug situation is influenced by 3 main factors:

1) Afghan heroin is trafficked along the 'Northern route' through Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Russia and on to Europe;

2) cannabis raw material base in the southern regions (Shuskaya Valley and Kyzylorda region);

3) and the most dangerous factor is the proliferation of synthetic drugs.

"Last year alone, law enforcement and special agencies uncovered around 3,000 drug crimes. Of these, 60% were drug sales. The activities of four organised drug groups were suppressed. Seventy underground drug laboratories were liquidated. 16 tons of drugs, including 5.7 tons of marijuana, 918 kg of hashish, 102 kg of heroin and 582 kg of synthetic drugs were seized," Minister of Internal Affairs reported.

Akhmetzhanov went on to outline the main thrusts of the Comprehensive Plan.

In the age of high-tech, the drug business has also moved into cyberspace. The sale of drugs through telegram bots and other Internet resources is widespread. For example, every seventh drug offence registered this year involves the sale of drugs through the Internet.

Of course, the Interior Ministry blocks such online shops. This year, for example, 604 drug sites were discovered and blocked. But we have to admit that this measure will not solve the problem drastically, as new sites appear quickly. And identifying them is a long process. Identifying the organizers is even more difficult. Because they are located abroad.

Modern hardware and software equipment is needed to block such illegal content. In this regard, the Comprehensive Plan envisages the provision of appropriate tools. This will automate the detection of drug distribution through social media and websites.

Cyber Surveillance will also ensure that websites are blocked online. That is, artificial intelligence itself identifies and immediately blocks them. At the same time, it helps to identify the users and organisers of such sites.

Clandestine drug production is another problem. Special units of the National Guard are being equipped with drones to detect them. Their task is to conduct aerial reconnaissance to identify cannabis crops in hard-to-reach areas and to detect drug laboratories using gas analyzers.

In addition, improving the quality of drug expertise is important.

"The first synthetic drugs appeared in Kazakhstan about 10 years ago. And the equipment and research methodology are old. Over the last 4 years the number of seized "synthetics" has increased by 100 times. That is why forensic examination of this type of drugs belongs to the category of complex ones. It takes about 1 month or more," head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs explained.

This in turn has a negative impact on the quality of pre-trial investigations. The principle of "inevitability of punishment" in relation to suspects is not respected. For example, it is not possible to apply the measure of "arrest" without an expert's opinion. For this reason, 108 criminals are wanted today. It is therefore envisaged to equip forensic bodies with modern and high quality equipment.

Treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons, as well as the formation of an effective system of prevention. In Kazakhstan, there is currently no accurate and reliable record of drug addicts. According to experts, the actual number of drug addicts is 5 times higher than the official data. In order to form a full-fledged report, it is necessary to obtain information from various sources.

Unfortunately, drug use among pupils is being detected today. Therefore, there are plans to introduce a screening system, which will make it possible to objectively assess the level of drug use in society, and to identify drug addicts at an early stage, especially among adolescents.

In addition, the quality of drug treatment and rehabilitation needs to be improved. This involves the modernisation and renovation of drug treatment centres and the establishment of workshops for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

"Transit drugs and precursors for the manufacture of 'synthetics' arrive by truck from bordering states. They are camouflaged as consumer goods and legal chemicals. In this regard, one of the measures of the Comprehensive Plan is to provide the state border with inspection equipment," Akhmetzhanov noted.

According to official statistics, 108,851 persons are under dynamic observation for the use of psychoactive substances in Kazakhstan, of whom 90,608 are dependent on alcohol and 18,243 on narcotic substances. Among drug addicts there are 1 498 women and 97 minors. Such data was announced by Timur Sultangaziyev, Deputy Minister of Healthcare.

"There is a growing trend in the number of people addicted to new psychoactive substances, so-called 'synthetic' drugs," he added.

In recent years, the following changes have taken place in the mental health service with regard to the care of addicts. For example, the structure of care has been optimised: 47 psychiatric and narcological dispensaries were merged into 17 regional mental health centres in 2016. In order to increase the availability of outpatient care, 82 primary mental health centres and 203 mental health clinics were opened at municipal territorial polyclinics and at district hospitals in rural areas.

The number of medical and social rehabilitation units has increased from 5 to 11 in order to develop medical and social rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons. The staffing of the service is improving. The number of psychiatrists-drug therapists has increased by 12% and the number of residents has increased fivefold from 30 to 152 at the end of last year.

Taking into account the state of the health system, existing problematic issues, key tasks and activities have been identified, which are included in the draft Comprehensive Plan to Combat Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking for 2023-2025. The Ministry of Health is the main executor in 8 activities and a co-executor in 9.

The Comprehensive Plan provides for an extensive information campaign among all segments of the population to raise public awareness and promote healthy lifestyles.

Improving the effectiveness of treatment for people with addictions is directly linked to medical and social rehabilitation, which helps to consolidate the timing and duration of remission and achieve full recovery.

"To date, the three-stage programme is available to patients only in 11 regions. It is necessary to continue work on opening medical and social rehabilitation units together with local executive bodies in the remaining regions," Deputy Minister of Healthcare Sultangaziyev said.

Also included in the Comprehensive Plan are measures to improve the material and technical base of regional and national mental health centres and to improve approaches to the financing of the service.

Sultangaziev also noted that medical statistics reflect only the number of people seeking help from public health organizations and cannot be an indicator of the real level of drug use. Various methods are used around the world to determine the level of latent drug use. In this context, international best practices will be studied with a visit to the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon (EMCDDA). As a result, the feasibility of establishing a similar centre in Kazakhstan will be considered.

As a result of the above-mentioned measures, it is expected to increase the proportion of persons taken out of dynamic observation with long-term remission, to expand the availability of medical and social assistance for drug addicts by increasing the number of medical and social rehabilitation units from 11 to 20 and to increase coverage of opioid-dependent patients with opioid agonist maintenance therapy from 370 to 500 persons.

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