Drugs agency calls for crackdown in e-pharmacies

Illegal trade targets the vulnerable

Governments must do more to crack down on the illegal trafficking of pharmaceutical drugs online.

Inconsistent laws and the failure to enforce legislation already in place has led to an explosion in the trade of pharmaceutical drugs online. Some can be bought via Web sites while other are touted openly in spam emails, making it easy for people to get their hands on powerful drugs.

In particular, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warns that the international online trade in controlled substances is targeted at vulnerable people such as addicts.

But the UN body accepts that controlling Internet pharmacies is a complicated business, not least because these pharmacies are operating all over the world and can - and do - relocate their operations at short notice whenever they are threatened with legal action.

Different national laws and regulations make it difficult for law enforcers to identify and investigate illicit use of the Internet. Also, the sheer volume of letters and parcels shipped on a daily basis makes it almost impossible for police to detect illegal shipments and track their origin.

Despite the difficulties, the INCB has called on Governments to do more to stamp out the trade. In its annual report published today the INCB said: "Governments should ensure that illicit trafficking and the diversion of pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances are established as criminal offences. Such offences should be punishable by sanctions commensurate with their gravity."

There have been some successes. Last year, a restaurateur and her son were jailed in Florida for running an unlicensed Internet pharmacy which fulfilled orders from a bedroom in her suburban home. Although they operated only two websites, mother and son generated a whopping $1.3 million in sales.

And then there are the consequences of this illegal trade. Last year, the mother of a Durham University student called on the Government to do more to stop unscrupulous companies selling prescription drugs on the Internet after her son took his own life while suffering from depression after becoming addicted to a cocktail of drugs that he obtained online.

Speaking after his inquest mum, Mue Bracknell, said that Web sites selling prescription drugs on the Internet are "cynically manipulating vulnerable people who are desperate". ®

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