Gov't Unveils Measures against Drug Crimes, Including Enhanced Border Inspection | Be Korea-savvy

Gov’t Unveils Measures against Drug Crimes, Including Enhanced Border Inspection

A drug-sniffing dog checking a suitcase at Incheon International Airport. (Yonhap)

A drug-sniffing dog checking a suitcase at Incheon International Airport. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Korea Bizwire) – The government rolled out a comprehensive set of measures on Wednesday to tackle illegal drug trafficking and usage, with a particular emphasis on enhancing border inspections.

The latest measures involve cracking down on drug smuggling, overseeing medical-purpose drugs more effectively, and expanding rehabilitation programs, according to the Office for Government Policy Coordination.

First, the government plans to broaden the screening of entrants at air and sea ports by incorporating state-of-the-art scanners to inspect the whole body to prevent smuggling.

In particular, officials will resume inspections of all entrants from countries with a high incidence of drug crimes by examining both carry-on baggage and individuals immediately upon disembarking airplanes at airports before immigration, the government said.

The specific countries were not immediately disclosed.

Inspection of international mail and express cargo from such countries will also be intensified by 50 percent, officials said.

The measures are prompted by a significant increase in illegal drug trafficking by travelers, rising from 86 cases in 2021 to 112 in 2022 and 129 in 2023, according to government data.

Additionally, the government plans to enhance the regulation of medical-purpose drugs, such as sleeping pills and anesthetic drugs, to prevent overdose.

The prescription threshold will be heightened and doctors will be obligated to review prescription records of all patients to prevent them from receiving multiple prescriptions from other hospitals, the officials said.

The government will also adopt an artificial intelligence (AI)-based system to detect and analyze potential overdose cases, promptly identifying such instances for further investigation.

The efforts apparently follow an increase in the misuse of medical-purpose drugs, particularly among younger populations and high-profile figures, like actor Yoo Ah-in. Some doctors even wrongly prescribed propofol, a powerful sleep-inducing drug commonly used in surgeries, for other purposes.

Licenses of medical doctors will be suspended when they either take or prescribe drugs other than for medical purposes, officials said.

Furthermore, the government aims to expand support for drug addicts in their rehabilitation by increasing the number of government-run centers from three to 17 by next year.

The government also plans to cover the costs of drug rehabilitation programs with the national health insurance, resulting in patients paying around 30 percent.

“The government has collaborated with all agencies to address a series of drug problems, such as the Gangnam drug drink case and drugs involving celebrities,” Government Policy Coordination Minister Bang Ki-seon said during a press conference. He was referring to a high-profile extortion scam that involved handing over beverages laced with drugs to random high school students in Seoul’s Gangnam district earlier this year.

The government budget to tackle drug crimes is earmarked at 60.2 billion won (US$46.3 million) for 2024, compared with 23.8 billion won for this year, according to Bang.

“The government is committed to restoring its drug-free status and making efforts to protect future generations from exposure to narcotics in their everyday lives,” Bang said.

South Korea has been bolstering its efforts to combat the rise in drug use and distribution by establishing a large-scale investigation unit comprising hundreds of officials from various government agencies.

As a result, the amount of confiscated drugs and arrested offenders during the January-September period rose by 45 percent and 48 percent, respectively, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Bang.

Meanwhile, the government also announced plans to strengthen punishment of drug criminals, including demanding the death penalty for drug suppliers making profit by selling the narcotics to minors.

The Supreme Prosecutors Office will advise prosecutors to conduct the investigations of drug smugglers and dealers with physical detention, regardless of whether they are first-time offenders or not, and demand the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for habitual drug dealers.

Prosecutors will also seek to indict those caught taking or possessing narcotics even if they are first-time offenders.

The government said it will actively seek aggravated punishment for crimes targeting teens by requesting the sentencing commission affiliated with the Supreme Court make relevant sentencing guidelines, which are set to be reviewed and confirmed in the first half of next year.


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