Drug trafficking in Palau is becoming more sophisticated and complex, making investigations more complicated and time consuming, revealed Narcotics Enforcement Agency (NEA) Director Ishmael Aquon in an interview with Island Times yesterday.

“It is becoming more complex and they (traffickers) are finding more colorful and innovative ways to bring in the drugs,” admitted Aquon.

He said methamphetamine or “ice” is being brought in using “colorful packaging, or as liquid mixed with other liquid products or brought within another substance.”   For example, meth is brought in as one type of liquid but once here, it is extracted and converted back to meth.

Use of messaging APPs such as Messenger to communicate by traffickers is also making investigations more complicated.  Aquon said it is more difficult to track these communications but not impossible.  Aquon said they have had two such cases where individuals were charged and arrested but due to critical information on one of the cases that is still pending, the prosecutor have elected to keep the case under seal.  The other case led to an arrest of a person at an outside jurisdiction.

Director Aquon also reported that methamphetamine “meths” are brought to Palau now in smaller packages, mostly through the Post Office.  “They are sending them in smaller quantities to minimize their losses,” revealed Aquon.  “Yes, most of the “meth” coming into Palau are coming from the United States because it is a lot cheaper to produce it there now.  It costs about $20 to $50 per gram of “ice” in the USA but it sells here for around $2,000 per gram.”

One of the challenges faced by the investigation is the length of time it takes to test items for drugs.  “An example is a recent case where we have sent out products to be tested and it has been a month and we still have not received results.  If we had available equipment, this case may have been charged already,” stated Aquon.

According to Director, they are in the process of acquiring a hand-held equipment that can detect listed chemicals in liquid substance that would alert them to possible presence of illegal drugs.  Each hand-held testing equipment costs around $30,000.

“We are happy to report that new users have dropped this year,” said Aquon regarding the demand for meth in the community.  Aquon believes that there is resistance to try the drugs and this is due to public awareness.

Director Aquon said that mostly the drugs coming in are to feed existing habits. “But we can’t be lax in our work.  We can just blink and it (drug problem) would explode again.”

People using these drugs are those that have been using them all along, people that have stopped but picked up the addiction again, and the deported Palauans that have used drugs while in the United States.

“We really want to see the rehabilitation strengthen.  We want to see how many are committed and treated.  We need to see these reports.  There are lots of people making money while we are looking at victims,” said Aguon of this new year.

Behavioral Health under the Ministry of Health is the only government agency equipped to handle rehabilitation.

Director Aquon also expressed his concern regarding the possibility of new drugs coming into Palau.  “It is only a matter of time before we see other hard drugs here that are picking up again in the US such as heroin, fentynol and other opioids.”  According to Aquon, they have not seen any of these here but feels it may happen soon.

United States had seen dramatic increase in number of overdoses and deaths due to use of opioid in recent years as well as resurgence of heroin and other hard drugs.