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Rising drug offences? Acting before it is too late

Last Friday the Police confiscated weapons, about $50,000 in foreign currency and what appeared to be cocaine in a raid at Fasitoo-tai.

Prison escapee and convicted criminal Sosene Asomaliu was also captured as well as four other suspects and two women. The two women were detained over their alleged role in a plantation at Faleatiu, which was discovered to be home to 10,000 marijuana plants with a street value of approximately T$10 million.

The Faleatiu raid in November last year by the Police also netted firearms, methamphetamine, ammunition and cash as well as fertiliser, marijuana seeds, a crack pipe and a large number of marijuana cigarettes.

But the Commissioner of Police and Prisons, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil, told Samoa Observer over the weekend that there is not enough evidence to suggest that the country is grappling with a drug use crisis.

“We have to have some strong evidence, we may have the narcotics here but I don’t know if we have a drug problem here,” Fuiavaili’ili said. 

“We have to look at the statistics from the Ministry of Health, Salvation Army and the Drugs and Alcohol Courts and then connect [them to] determine whether Samoa has a drug problem; but compared to the United States we don’t.”

But how much more evidence do the authorities need before acknowledging that Samoa has a drug problem that needs arresting? 

Isn’t the record discovery of 10,000 marijuana plants with a street value of about T$10 million indicative of a crisis brewing behind the scenes? 

And what about the frequency in the number of Police arrests of suspects in possession of methamphetamine or “ice” in recent years?

In September 2018 the Police Commissioner warned that Samoa is in danger of getting entangled in a drug war, after a cache of drugs with a street value of $200 million washed up on the shores of Fiji and Tonga.

“Drugs in the Pacific have been here and we are all trying to eliminate the drug problem,” he said.

“And that’s what is facing Pago Pago and definitely we don’t want that in Samoa. Samoa is definitely not immune from the drug problems.”

Fast forward to August 2019, close to a year later, international security expert Jose Luis Sousa-Santos warned the Samoa Government not to be complacent as the market for drugs in the islands continues to expand and Samoa has become a target.

“We are seeing signs of meth being used by youths in Samoa," he said.

“In the short time I have been here in Samoa, there are the red flags that methamphetamine usage is being seen, of course not to the level that we see in Fiji and Tonga. So there are drugs being brought in. I think [Samoa] cannot fall into [a state of] complacency.”

This analysis by Mr Sousa-Santos, in response to questions by this newspaper, takes us back to the Police Commissioner’s own statement last weekend.

We commend Fuiavaili’ili for his leadership in enforcing the law, being proactive and moving quickly to lead his officers on raids in various parts of Samoa, which have successfully led to the confiscation of illicit material as well as the prosecution of suspects.

However, the increasing arrests and prosecution of drug-related offences as well as the rise in the number of suspects involved in the drug trade, should be a worry for everyone concerned, including the Commissioner.

Comparing the drug problems of America, a nation of over 328 million people with Samoa and its 190,000-plus population, is like comparing apples and oranges. 

Due to our village setting and the communal nature of how we live our lives, becoming a party to drug-related offences are likely to have wider ramifications on families, not only in terms of the crimes committed by people, but the addiction from consumption that can impact our health resources long-term.

We have in the last two to three years seen video and news footage come out of Tonga on the effects of a crippling methamphetamine epidemic on families and Tongan society generally. It is a path that we would want to avoid at all cost.

While statistics are important to determine a course of action in public policy, immediately convening a discussion with the relevant stakeholders to discuss interventions, such as anti-drugs awareness programs in vulnerable communities should be the first step to mitigating what could become a crisis.

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