Ordering Drugs Online: Illegal Internet Pharmacies Target Young Audiences Via Social Media

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The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reports that illicit drugs are being ordered online via illegal Internet pharmacies, along with prescription medicines. Enterprises seem to target a young audience: the President of INCB noted that “disturbingly, illegal Internet pharmacies have started to use social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to publicize their websites, which can put large audiences at risk of dangerous products, especially given that the World Health Organization has found that over half of the medicines from illegal Internet pharmacies are counterfeit.”

Key aspects of illegal Internet pharmacies’ activities include smuggling their products to consumers, finding hosting space for their websites and convincing consumers that they are, in fact, legitimate. INCB is calling on governments to close down illegal Internet pharmacies and to seize substances which have been illicitly ordered on the Internet and smuggled through the mail.

INCB has received information on over 12,000 seizures of internationally controlled substances sent via the mail in 2010, including over 6,500 seizures of internationally controlled licit substances and over 5,500 seizures of drugs of illicit origin. India was identified as the leading country of origin for these substances, accounting for 58 per cent of the substances seized, while the United States, China and Poland were also identified as significant countries of origin.

The Board published “Guidelines for Governments on Preventing the Illegal Sale of Internationally Controlled Substances through the Internet” but, according to a recent survey on the implementation of the Guidelines, further progress is needed. Barriers to implementation that need to be addressed are inadequate legislative or regulatory frameworks, insufficient technology and lack of staff. Action to address the problem continues, with new initiatives being undertaken at interna- tional and national levels. “International cooperation in counteracting this issue is essential,” said the INCB President, “For instance, Governments that identify illegal Internet pharmacies operating within other territories should notify the relevant Government; and technical assistance cooperation should be strengthened.”

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INCB provides mission statements to numerous countries worldwide. The most recent mission to the United States is to review the drug control situation in the United States with the Government and to discuss experience in the implementation of the international drug control treaties to which the United States is a party. Deliberations focused on the abuse of prescription drugs, the “medical” cannabis schemes in some states in the United States, measures to combat illegal Internet pharmacies and issues related to emerging trends in the illicit traffic and abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and the diversion of precursor chemicals.

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