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Cyprus

Drug seizures snowball

YKAN anti-drugs officers seize cannabis plants (CM archive)

By Constantinos Psillides

THE CYPRUS Drug Squad (YKAN) has been making headlines this last month, regarding a string of drug busts that yielded a record number of cannabis plants and amounts of prepared cannabis.

Since February 25, YKAN seized 435 cannabis plants and 52.5 kilos of cannabis.

The busts reflect a consistent spike in cannabis seizures observed in recent years with a 100 per cent jump in cannabis seizures for 2014. According to YKAN data, 202 kilos of cannabis were confiscated in 2014 compared to 99 kilos in 2013.

With 62 kilos in total confiscated so far this year, it is clear that 2015 will be another record year. In the first three months of this year alone YKAN has seized almost as many cannabis plants as in the whole 2014 (487 plants in 2013 compared to 484 plants in 2014).

The drug squad spokesman Stelios Sergides attributed the success to a combination of drug squad officers being more experienced and well-trained than before and sheer hard work.

“This is not just a fluke. We have been working hard and methodically towards battling illegal drugs, by analysing information, planning out raids and coordinated operations. We are meticulous and better organised. We are making progress and that is reflected in our results,” said Sergides, who declined to answer whether YKAN has introduced new technology, like thermal imaging cameras, in their arsenal.

Large cannabis plantations in urban areas can be easily identified through the use of thermal imaging cameras since the lighting required to grow the plants emits large waves of heat. Police in the UK have been mounting thermal cameras on helicopters, in an attempt to clamp down on indoor plantations.

The lighting required to grow cannabis plants emits large waves of heat which can be detected by thermal cameras
The lighting required to grow cannabis plants emits large waves of heat which can be detected by thermal imaging cameras

Cannabis though is not the only drug that has seen a meteoric rise over the last few years. Cocaine use also skyrocketed, if seizures are evidence of use. In 2013 YKAN confiscated a mere three kilos of cocaine while in 2014 that number went up to 31 kilos.

“Cocaine users are increasing because people are under the false impression that they can control how much they take, neglecting the fact that it is highly addictive,” said Sergides, asked to comment on the increase of cocaine use.

“You have to realise that in general, drug use always goes up in periods of social unrest. The numbers have spiked since the financial crisis of 2013 and that is no coincidence. People are looking for a way to escape their problems through drug use,” he said.

Only one drug has seen a decline in use, to the point of disappearing completely. Heroin, the number one cause of death in drug users, has all but vanished from the market. Heroin seizure in 2014 dropped to lowest ever, a mere five grams for the whole year.

“This is not just a Cyprus phenomenon. All over the EU heroin use has dropped to almost negligible levels. We are cautiously optimistic, of course, but we hope that in the years to come heroin will disappear from the market completely,” Sergides said.

But a drop in heroin use doesn’t equal a drop in drug use.

Heroin users instead turned to synthetic drugs, as evidenced by the – almost unbelievable – spike in ecstasy pills seizures. While in 2013 YKAN seized 504 ecstasy pills, in 2014 that number shot up to over 18,000, along with 5 kilos of various synthetic drugs.

And ecstasy is just one of the many synthetic drugs currently in the market. Skunk, a much more potent strain of cannabis, is also classified as a synthetic drug and a recent study by the Kings College in London, published in The Lancet, found that daily users of high potency skunk are five times more likely to be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder than non-users.

“Synthetic drugs are the new threat. In a recent European police forum we have been informed that over 101 new strains of synthetic drugs were developed in 2014 alone. This is the new challenge YKAN is now facing,” said Sergides, pointing out that the synthetic drugs are as dangerous as heroin.

“Dealers pass the new synthetic stuff off as heroin to drug users, which unfortunately had lead to overdosing.”

The drop in heroin use is reflected in the decline of request for opioid treatment. On the other hand, as the Sunday Mail previously reported, cannabis treatments have almost tripled.

Following an YKAN protocol introduced in 2010, instead of locking up younger drug users (14 to 24), and especially those caught using cannabis, police have ordered them to complete a rehabilitation programme. Upon completion of the programme, the offender is released without any ramifications from the court.

But does an increase in drug seizures really equal an increase in drug use? Sergides says that it’s highly probable but only a proper survey will have a definite result.

“In 2015 the state will conduct an epidemiology survey that will yield tangible results not only for cannabis use but for other drugs too. It’s the only way safe way to know,” he said.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2009 figures), 9.9 per cent of Cypriots over 15 say they have tried cannabis compared to the European average of 23.2 per cent. That is a 3.3 per cent rise from the 6.6 per cent reported in 2006.

Taking into consideration the relatively low number of drug busts during those years, a 2015 survey on current drug use could well come up with some shocking numbers.

YKAN’s major drug busts in 2015

On February 25 drug squad officers discovered 345 cannabis plants in a villa at Simou village, Paphos district.
Three people, a 56-year-old Cypriot, his wife, 53, and her son from a previous marriage, 31, were arrested.

On March 9, a British man and his wife were both arrested after police found them tending 80 plants of cannabis in two adjoining villas at Kathikas village, Paphos district.
They claimed that they were taking care of the plants for a third party.

Two days later, on March 11, YKAN officers found 30 kilos of cannabis in a secret room in a carpentry shop in Limassol. The cannabis was stashed inside water heaters that were unloaded a day before at the Limassol port. Five people were arrested.

A day after that, YKAN arrested a 33-year-old man after they found 16 kilos of cannabis in his possession. The arrest followed a raid at the man’s apartment, where weighing scales were also confiscated.

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