The sharp increase is widely blamed on increasingly accessible synthetic drugs mainly sold through the internet and, in particular, social media platforms such as Telegram.
The Armenian police reported a total of 743 trafficking cases in 2022. Gevorg Sargsian, a prosecutor dealing with illegal drug trade, downplayed the figure on Tuesday, saying that it also reflects an increased number of cases detected and solved by the police and other law-enforcement bodies.
Sargsian claimed that his foreign colleagues are impressed with the success of Armenia’s fight against such crimes.
“The law-enforcement bodies of countries with much greater capacities have the same difficulties as the Armenian law-enforcement bodies do,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Critics, notably relatives of Armenians suffering from drug addiction, are unconvinced by these assurances, pointing to the rapid spread of banned substances in the country.
The walls of residential buildings and other public areas across Yerevan now have inscriptions showing the links to Telegram channels selling drugs. A young woman who asked not to be identified said her brother was one of their regular clients before ending up in a psychiatric hospital.
“People can buy everything on those Telegram channels,” she complained.
Sargsian insisted that the authorities are cracking down on the illegal online trade. In his words, over the last three years they have identified and charged over two dozen members of four criminal associations that old several million dollars’ worth of narcotics through social media. Two such individuals are now standing trial on relevant charges, added the prosecutor.
Gayane Vartazarian, a deputy director of Armenia’s main narcology clinic, said she is especially concerned about the growing number of juveniles and women using narcotics. She said the number of women who applied to the clinic rose from 76 in 2021 to 116 in 2022.
“I wouldn’t say that these numbers are catastrophic,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “But these are large numbers and they are rising.”
Some critics of the Armenian government link the alarming trend with recent years’ increase in Armenia’s overall crime rate, saying that the country is not as safe as it used to be. The total number of various crimes registered by the police rose by over 24 percent in 2022.