I am pleased to be here today to open this national drug observatories seminar. As you know, drug observatories perform three simple roles: (1) collection and monitoring of data; (2) analysis and interpretation of that data; and then (3) reporting and disseminating information to local, regional, and international stakeholders. Although they sound simple and straightforward, these roles are a vital part of our region’s fight against illicit drug use and trafficking. Without such data, our efforts are just a shot in the dark, which we hope will fall on the right target or near enough to it to make a difference in reducing drug use and increasing drug interdiction. But, hope is not a strategy! With better data collection, analysis, and reporting, countries can properly focus the efforts of relevant authorities in the needed areas, support budget requests for personnel and programming, and develop appropriate legislation, policies, and programs to combat drug use and trafficking with the goal of making our countries safer for our citizens. And, if that is what can come from national-level observatories, just imagine how all of our countries’ limited resources can be multiplied, magnified, and projected if we simply cooperate, coordinate, or just compare with one another our SOPs, best practices, and results.
If we are to make headway in this endeavor, we must put drug observatories in as many places as possible. In addition, we must ensure that personnel have the proper training and equipment to perform their duties. Therefore, I commend you, representatives from the 13 countries that are participating in this regional seminar, in this collaboration between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Inter-American Observatory on Drugs (OID) of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). This is an important step in making drug observatories a reality in every part of the Caribbean.
The United States Government has and will continue to support drug observatories around the world. Through the U.S. Government’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the United States heavily supports efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking and other international crimes through capacity building, local donations, and technical assistance, of which drug observatories are a crucial component. Some examples of our past support for drug observatories in the Caribbean include:
- implementation of 15 drug use surveys in secondary schools since 2013;
- provision of technical and financial support for data collection, analysis, and reporting;
- rapid situation assessments on drugs in three countries in the past two years; and,
- national and regional training workshops for national observatories and drug information networks, including this seminar.
Future efforts of drug observatories will address the use and flow of opioids throughout the hemisphere. Drug observatories and drug information networks will play a crucial role in stemming the tide of opioid use, a key goal of President Trump. Although opioid use has historically been problematic mainly in North America, the use of these substances has been spreading throughout the Americas. Fentanyl, heroin and other opioids, have appeared in a number of Latin American countries and, as such, these substances are a potential threat to the Caribbean, as well. In order to accomplish our goals, it is important to strengthen drug information networks so that they can also serve as early warning systems for opioids and new psychoactive substances which may not be detectable in traditional sample surveys. In addition, drug observatories will strengthen the capacity to move from data to policy and program development, improve the availability and quality of supply control and law enforcement drug-related data, and improve the monitoring and evaluation of drug related programs.
I would like thank CARICOM, OAS CICAD, and OID for collaborating on this seminar and making it a reality. I also commend the 13 countries in attendance today. Your being here shows true political will and commitment by your governments. It is why my government counts yours as real partners in the fight against illicit drugs and trafficking. Only by working together can we combat this scourge, this cancer. You, therefore, play a vital role in making a drug free environment a reality for your countries, your region, our hemisphere, and indeed the world.