Online pharmacies routing drugs illegally to the West: UN

Online pharmacies routing drugs illegally to the West: UN

New Delhi: A growing number of illegal Internet or online pharmacies based in India appear to be the West’s source for several pharmaceutical drugs that cannot otherwise be shipped freely into that region or require prescriptions from doctors, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Much of this is on account of the lack of an adequate regulatory framework for the pharmaceutical industry here, the report adds.

The report, released by the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board also says that another area of concern is the smuggling of legal pharmaceutical preparations out of the country to neighbouring Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

These drugs include codeine-based syrups used for treating coughs; benzodiazepine, a drug used to reduce anxiety; and buprenorphines, a kind of opiate.

Among other findings, the report claims India and other South Asian countries are increasingly being used as a transit point by drug cartels to smuggle cocaine to countries in Europe or North America.

“Around 10% of the world’s medicines and raw materials for pharmaceuticals are manufactured in India, but drug enforcement is irregular," said Gary Lewis, representative of the UN office on drugs and crime. “Because of uneven application of regulation and administration, drug abuse is a growing menace, posing risks for HIV/AIDS control as well."

The report is presented annually and the current one takes into account worldwide data on trafficking, illicit farming and drug enforcement up to November 2007.

Trafficking cocaine into India remains at a “modest level," the report says. All of South Asia has recently been targeted as an area for smuggling drugs by international trafficking syndicates that mostly involve organized criminal gangs from West Africa, it pointed out.

“On the whole, the situation in India is not dire, but that doesn’t mean we back away from the work being done to profile large traffickers and bring them to book," Lewis said.

India’s land border with Bangladesh sees the smuggling of cannabis and heroin, while the quantity of heroin entering India from Pakistan has also increased, the study said.

K.C. Verma, director general, Narcotics Control Bureau, said the report overstates concerns on cocaine smuggled into or from India.

“The cocaine part has been slightly overdone," he said. “There have not been any major divergences in the pattern of drug abuse in India in recent years. I assure (you) that the report shall be studied and action shall be taken," he added.

According to Verma, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which oversees production and sale of legal drugs, does not have the same “core of crime and punishment" as the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, meant to target illegal trade in drugs such as cannabis.