This report presents research on the role played by the police, petty drug dealers and users in the street level drug trade in Tajikistan. Synthesizing information received from interviews with individual Tajik drug users, annual reports from the Tajik Drug Control Agency as well as lesser- known studies by local researchers, the study brings to light a number of interesting details of the street level drug trade in Tajikistan and discusses their implications for drug policies in the region as a whole.

The main findings are: 

  1. the drug trade is evolving and becoming more mobile whereby cellular communications are used to arrange meetings or direct delivery of drugs to one’s home by the dealer in lieu of the previous practice of using specially-designated apartments or homes for the sale/purchase of drugs; 
  2. there is an emerging tendency amongst dealers to have purchasers transfer money to their bank accounts to facilitate larger drug sales; 
  3. heroin in Tajikistan is now more widely available, easier to acquire and of higher quality – all of which is consistent with changes in the prices of high purity heroin in the country in recent years; 
  4. the current situation in those towns bordering Afghanistan indicates a strong correlation between HIV risk behaviors and expanding HIV epidemics among injecting drug users; 
  5. new types of drugs like pill-form methadone from Iran and cocaine and ecstasy from China and Russia are available on the drug markets in Tajikistan, with the latter becoming especially popular in night clubs frequented by Tajik youth; 
  6. the Tajik drug market is being connected to drug markets in other countries through new routes between Tajikistan and China, with drugs moving in both directions, and Tajikistan and Iran.

This research likewise illustrates the shocking state of corruption in Tajik law enforcement agencies and penitentiary facilities whereby police and prison officers directly facilitate the distribution of drugs. Law enforcement officials provide (confiscated) heroin to favored dealers, arrest or harass competing dealers and exploit drug users in various ways for the sake of information, money or sexual favors. Drug users are also routinely arrested, often by planting evidence on them, to meet arbitrary quotas, which all but ensures that the activities of larger criminal and drug trafficking organizations will go on unimpeded.

Moreover, while the analysis of data from the Tajik Drug Control Agency suggests that the volume of opiates coming to or transiting Tajikistan from Afghanistan might, on the whole, have diminished over the past few years, the reported decrease in opiate seizures appears to be misleading as corruption in law enforcement has kept the country awash in heroin and other drugs.

To address these challenges, this study suggests stepping up state prosecution of corrupt police and corrections officers, re-visiting contemporary drug policies through the lens of human rights, introducing policies that discourage targeting and arresting drug users for the purpose of police performance assessment, and providing more harm reduction, drug treatment and legal aid opportunities to people who use drugs both in community and prison settings.

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