Side event: Strategic importance of real-time drug data

Organized by the UNODC Research and Trend Analysis Branch with the support of the Group of Friends of UNODC Research

H.E. Stephan Klement, Ambassador, European Union Delegation: The EU particularly focuses on real time information. The new drug strategy of 2021-2025 acknowledges the need to addressing existing and evolving challenges of the drug situation, given the dynamic and complex nature of this phenomenon. The strategy takes a future oriented approach by integrating foresight with the aim to increase preparedness at the EU level to ongoing and future drug related challenges. Research, innovation and foresight is one of the cross-cutting themes supporting these 3 key policy areas where the strategy is build. The new drug strategy outlines the scope of the cross-cutting fields of research, innovation and foresight which covers both health and security aspects of the drug phenomenon as these are intrinsically linked. The new strategy prioritises the following areas: 1) the need to shift from reactive to proactive approach in tackling the drug situation, 2) the development of foresight capacities at the national level, 3) strengthening coordination and synergies and 4) ensuring funding for drug related research, innovation and foresight. At the core is the commitment to base drug policy on a scientific based approach, therefore accurate real time data is the link to this strategy. The group of friends of UNODC research has been created precisely to highlight the crucial role of evidence provided by UNODC to support international policymaking and to ensure that research produced by UNODC remains relevant to member states at the level of quality needed by the international community. To conclude it is essential to support and promote transnational real time data systems to alert the international community of fast changes occurring at the drug markets. Countries should stand ready to strengthen collaboration with other stakeholders in this field including UNODC by sharing real time data to enable the development more of agile and evidence based responses. Evidence based risk assessment and strategic collaboration assessments are needed to inform and stimulate research, innovation and foresight which to new drug laws.

Angela Me, Chief Research and Trend Analysis Branch, UNODC: Thank you ambassador for talking about foresight. We all trying to imagine of the future. [ ] I would like to talk about the importance of data. I will be presenting you the real time data platform we have at UNODC. As you might have heard, data is now considered the new oil. The power of data, both as financial resources but also for intervention. A new power that can shift decisions and resources. [In that there is] the importance of using data for development and for helping international communities to achieve their goals. The UN SG has launched a new data strategy to assist [the agencies] in embracing the notion of using and improving the use of data; regarding decision making within the UN but also improving timeliness, readiness, accessibility but also the visualisation and the communication of data. Within the pillars of the strategy there is the recognition of the need to addressing different issues if we want to embrace the power of data without losing quality or ignoring the ethical processing of data. There is also the realisation that UN needs to expand partnerships outside of the organisation (eg. social media). Among the steps that we need is to have data that can adequately describe what is important for us as UNODC. We also need to be user-friendly in the way we organise and govern our data and then how we integrate and share those. Regarding CND we are creating a new platform for the ARQ along with a new data portal that we have released last year. 

Drug phenomena change very quickly and COVID-19 has given us a lesson on how important is to understand what is happening now. The idea that we need to not just concentrate data but have data that can tell a story in order to act now. In particular drug related data regarding seizures and supply informs us on how trafficking is changing very quickly. It is important to focus on the geographical coverage of findings. As an example, from real data during COVID-19 we were able to identify as it was happening, firstly a disruption in trafficking but then a quick adaptation that followed with new dynamics; in routes or/and quantities. Our new platform has 440.000 data collecting points, a secure data system that is not public but for member states to share all relevant information or other events related to drugs in order to modernise our assistance to the international community. This system collects big data as it benefits from all open source information that is available together with official data that member states provide. I invite all to see the advantage of participation and accessing the platform.

Edgar Guerrero Centeno, Director General of National Analysis at the National Center for Planning, Analysis and Information to Combat Crime (CENAPI), Mexico: At the end of 2018 at the General Attorney’s Office we started a process of transformation in making strategic use of information regarding criminal investigation. One of these changes was on the way we understand criminal phenomena; now from the market perspective, not just case by case. Regarding the drug markets we have a conceptual framework that guides our activities assisting in the investigation improving its effectiveness; understanding new patterns, how markets adapting etc. That has 4 components: 1) activities in the production phase, 2) in transportation process, 3) in relation to trading and 4) in relation to consumption.

Within the objectives of this framework is to be a source of knowledge to assist in understanding certain patterns and in helping us to build risk models along with understanding how markets respond to our interventions in the field. The framework and the use of real time data have helped us to build an early warning system, to strengthen our drug intersecting activities, to effectively identify precursor chemicals and last to  assist us in field operations and training activities. All information after being collected is being validated and then used to assist strategic and tactical intelligence as well as in policymaking. 

Danijel Tadic and Tirza Chessa, Operational Specialists, Research and Analysis Department, National Police of the Netherlands: Our  team mainly looks on how international developments have or will have an impact on national security and the police work. For us real time data is really important as they can contribute to draw future oriented scenarios. On our new international police cooperation strategy which started in 2019 international relations management is determined by crime themes which are set out in the national security agenda. [In that] instead of focusing on countries, this allows more space to adjust or change a strategy based on trends and developments. This strategy consists of the following steps: 1) a central intelligence unit conducts an international crime theme assessment, 2) the chief serves as the national contact point for a specific crime theme and determines the international strategy based on these assessments and 3) the chief and operations [ ] develop an international crime theme agenda. The intensity of the relation differs per country. That does not mean that we do not have a country approach but that the assessments are our main focus now. Regarding the crime theme assessments these focus on the size, the area and the consequences of the crime. Next to national perspective there is explicit attention to the international perspective. The monitoring and yearly updates on trends and developments for a specific crime theme can lead to adjustments in the strategy and the agenda; and there is where real time data come in. Our crime theme assessments are conducted every 4 years and are rather in line with policy assessments cycle.

Currently the central intelligence unit is working to compile drug assessment reports to serve as a pilot to guide other crime theme assessments. The aim is to have the report ready by 10/2021. This is a strategic report based on the years 2017-2020 attempting to give future perspectives on the developments within the drug markets. The generated queries will filter drug related national investigations from our system along with queries to monitor the request of legal assistance and queries that monitor seizures in helping us generating datasets. This will provide us mostly with quantitative data but our aim is to do more qualitative research on the basis of notable shifts on our datasets. Combined with the literature review we aim to intergrade a mix of various information sources to establish our report. Our real time intelligence center is set up to support our operation with relevant information. This is the first step in working with data and this is specifically for operations in the field. We are also using innovative technology for urgent operations based on intercepted communication through protected messaging platforms. Encrypted data is also used for strategic purposes; our researchers use the intercepted communication to conduct social network analysis on synthetic drug networks.

Syed Noureddin, Charge d’Affaires, Republic of Singapore: Just a few short remarks to conclude. [ ] seek to highlight the crucial role of evidence based research provided by UNODC and to ensure that UNODC continues to provide timely and essential research output making available to member states and organisations and other governing bodies. We have heard how real time data platforms can play key role in enabling the UNODC to provide timely evidence to member states in all parts of the world. Our colleagues from Mexico and the Netherlands shared ground experiences of their respected countries. Amid global fiscal austerity as countries continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic ensuring an appropriate and sustainable level of flow of funding for research will be challenging. By leveraging and building on existing data showing platforms UNODC will be able to continue, maximising efficiency and ensure uninterrupted delivery of its important services to member states via existing resources. At the same time the debate to ensuring the data collected on such platforms are reliable, impartial and transparent and of the highest scientific quality. To this end we welcome UNODC ongoing efforts to incorporate such platforms at the provision of technical assistance to member states both in strengthening the data collection as well as information analysis capacities.

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