19 February 2009 The growing sophistication of organized drug gangs, combined with the emergence of difficult-to-control smuggling routes, and high opium harvests in Afghanistan are just some of the major threats highlighted in a new report released today by the United Nations drug watchdog.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) annual report, launched at UN Headquarters in New York, spotlighted major trends in illegal drug use and trafficking in various regions around the globe.
The Vienna-based agency reported the practice of criminal groups setting up fake pharmaceutical businesses to buy the chemicals needed to manufacture illicit drugs, including methamphetamine, amphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
The report noted that many of the fictitious companies are set up in Africa, which ships the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine chemicals to Mexico, where methamphetamine production supplies the large market in the United States.
Another cause for concern is the appearance of “illegal rogue internet pharmacies and the ability to purchase both legal and in some cases illegal drugs or seed, for example for marijuana, over the Internet,” Melvyn Levitsky, a member of the INCB, told journalists in New York.
Mr. Levitsky said that anybody with a Paypal account or credit card, including young people, could buy drugs through a “phoney consultation with a so-called doctor by e-mail.”
West Africa has fast become a major hub for smuggling cocaine from South America into the growing European market due to its geographical location and its weak government structures, which in turn has led to corruption and drug abuse, according to the report.
The report praised countries in the region, such as Senegal, which have taken up measures to address the problem, including stiffer penalties for trafficking in an effort to halt the erosion of the country’s political, economic and social structures.
The INCB also warned that insecurity in Afghanistan has allowed the strife-ridden nation to continue to produce over 90 per cent of the world’s opium, despite an almost 20 per cent reduction in the amount of land used in poppy cultivation in 2008.
Afghanistan’s neighbours suffer from the adverse effects of the illicit export of opium, especially as the trade passes out of the north of the country and fans into other parts of the region.
“A large amount goes through Iran, which has had the largest seizures in the world,” said Mr. Levitsky, adding that “it also has the largest opiate using population in the world …estimated at about three million people.
“That is a number that is, for example, larger than the total number of heroine addicts and abusers of heroine in the United States.”
Although an independent body, the INCB was established in 1968 in accordance with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.
The Board’s 13 members are elected by the UN Economic and Social Council, and serve in their personal capacity, not as government representatives, providing information to the general public and experts around the world on matters of drug control.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue