By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) - Illegal drug sales on the Internet are booming as
unlicensed online pharmacies selling drugs like morphine evade a
patchy global effort to stop them, the United Nations narcotics
watchdog said on Wednesday.
In its 2004 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board
(INCB) said Internet pharmacies sell several billion doses of medicine
illicitly each year and deliver them by post, making them an
alternative drug-trafficking route.
"They are really taking the place of traditional drug traffickers,"
INCB President Hamid Ghodse said at a news conference ahead of the
"It is very much increasing rapidly," Ghodse said, when asked how
quickly the problem was growing.
The vast majority of drugs sales by online pharmacies involved
internationally controlled narcotics and so-called psychotropic
substances, which act on the mind, the INCB said. Of those, around 90
percent were sold without the required prescription.
"Billions of (doses of) controlled substances -- some of them highly
potent drugs such as oxycodone, which is equivalent to morphine, and
fentanyl, which is many times stronger than morphine -- are sold by
unlicensed Internet pharmacies," he added.
These pharmacies blurred the distinction between licit and illicit
drugs by offering prescription medication to all customers alongside
over-the-counter products like food supplements, the INCB said.
They also posed a risk to children, the INCB said.
"The illicit trade over the Internet has been identified as one of the
major sources for prescription medications abused by children and
adolescents in certain countries such as the United States," the INCB
said in its report.
Legal suppliers were fueling the illicit trade by providing unlicensed
Internet pharmacies with many of the drugs they sell, and national
authorities should do more to stop them, it added.
"Since most of these pharmacies deal with brand products obtained from
established and recognized suppliers, authorities responsible for the
control of these suppliers can effectively prevent shipments to
unlicensed Internet pharmacies," it said.
IRAQ INSTABILITY MAY FUEL DRUG TRAFFICKING
While some countries were willing to cooperate in investigating
illicit shipments from their territory, others needed to do better, it
"A lack of cooperation by some national authorities has been
identified as a major impediment to concerted efforts," the report
said, adding that Pakistan had not investigated some illegal shipments
from its shores.
In North America, the biggest market in the world for illicit drugs,
the abuse or misuse of prescription drugs appeared to be on the rise,
the INCB said.
Another source of concern was Iraq where a lack of political stability
could prove fertile for drug trafficking.
"The drug situation in Iraq may deteriorate further because of the
disintegration of the drug control structure in the country, given its
geographical location and the current political and economic
instability," the INCB said.
Illicit drug production in Afghanistan had reached a record high and
threatened the country's stability, it said. After three successive
years of bumper opium poppy harvests there, heroin trafficking in
Europe had regained some momentum.
While heroin use was stable or declining in most of Western Europe, it
continued to increase in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union. Russia had become the biggest heroin market in Europe with over
one million heroin users, the INCB said.
The eastern enlargement of the European Union could also weaken
measures to fight drug trafficking, it added.
"The board is concerned that the enlargement of the European Union may
lead to a weakening of existing import or export controls throughout
Europe," the INCB said
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