Preventing and Detecting the Trafficking of Synthetic Drugs in Aviation

Implementing Organization

Synthetic drugs and their precursors tend to be trafficked across continents by air more than any other type of illicit drugs. In response to this pressing challenge, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Synthetic Drug Strategy have initiated a collaborative program to assist the aviation sector in preventing and detecting the trafficking of synthetic drugs and their precursors within aviation environments.  
As the specialized United Nations agency overseeing international air transport, ICAO assumes a pivotal role in formulating new and revised Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) aimed at enhancing the security of international air transport. The UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy complements these endeavors by providing a comprehensive framework for implementing global responses to synthetic drugs, covering various strategic areas of action.  
Together, ICAO and the UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy’s joint program strengthens international efforts in countering the trafficking of synthetic drugs and their precursors by ensuring a more secure and resilient aviation environment.  

Accomplishments to Date

Program to be initiated in 2024.  

Project Activities

Host Interagency Expert Group Meeting (Q2/Q3 2024): 

  • Convene a comprehensive interagency expert group meeting to delve into current trends and vulnerabilities within the aviation sector related to synthetic drug trafficking. 
  • Facilitate in-depth discussions on prevention and detection strategies, incorporating insights from diverse agencies and experts.  

Participate in Regional Consultations: 

  • Engage in regional consultations fostering collaboration between aviation and law enforcement authorities in addressing the trafficking of synthetic drugs by air.  
  • Use these platforms to increase awareness about synthetic drug trafficking in aviation, identify shared challenges, and explore opportunities for regional cooperation.  

Capacity Building Initiatives: 

  • Implement capacity-building programs that enhance the capabilities of aviation and law enforcement personnel in detecting and preventing the trafficking of synthetic drugs by air. 
  • Provide comprehensive training on drug identification, safe handling, and disposal, emphasizing a proactive approach to the prevention and detection of synthetic drug trafficking.  

Guidance Development on Dual-Use Substances:  

  • Develop clear and practical guidance on the detection and identification of dual-use substances. 
  • Ensure aviation security measures are adaptive to the dual-purpose nature of certain substances used in the manufacture of illicit drug and explosives.  

Support for Forensic Laboratories:  

  • Offer support to forensic drug and toxicology laboratories dedicated to aviation security.
  • Enhance proficiency in identifying synthetic drugs, their precursors, and dual-use substances through targeted support and ongoing collaboration.  
Global Level Outcomes
  • Increased awareness of global trends and vulnerabilities related to synthetic drug trafficking within the aviation sector.  
  • Strengthened collaboration among international agencies and experts, fostering a more unified approach to aviation security.  
  • Enhanced global capacity in the detection and prevention of synthetic drugs in aviation environments.  
  • Standardized guidelines for the global detection and identification of dual-use substances in the context of illicit drug and explosives manufacturing.  
National Level Outcomes
  • Development and implementation of country-specific prevention and detection strategies based on insights from the interagency expert group meeting.  
  • Strengthened capacities of aviation and law enforcement personnel at the national level in the detection and prevention of synthetic drug trafficking by air.   
  • Increased proficiency in identifying synthetic drugs, precursors, and dual-use substances in national forensic laboratories.  

Current State Participants 

New initiative 


Asma Fakhri, Coordinator, UNODC Synthetic Drug Strategy  asma [dot] fakhri [at] un [dot] org (asma[dot]fakhri[at]un[dot]org)