India and its neighbours are witnessing an increase in abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations which contain psychotropic substances, according to a report by an international narcotics control body.
"South Asia is experiencing increasing problems related to the abuse of and trafficking in prescription drugs and over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances," the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in its annual report for 2011.
It said that their low cost, high profit margin and easy availability, as well as the misperception that they are less harmful than illicitly manufactured drugs, are the main reasons for the increasing abuse and trafficking.
The report pointed out that most of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are abused are obtained from local pharmacies. "However, some of the drugs are smuggled, in particular out of India and into neighbouring countries," it said.
The report noted "rise" in trafficking in pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotic drugs.
In a worrying trend, the report noted increase in the HIV and Hepatitis C infection rates due to drugs abuse through injections.
"The abuse of drugs by injection is increasing in South Asia and has reached significant proportions in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Drugs abused by injection in the region include heroin, prescription opioids and mixtures with other controlled substances.
"The abuse of drugs by injection has contributed to an increase in the HIV and hepatitis C infection rates," the report made by INCB, which acts as independent monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions, said.
The international drug trafficking organisations continue to use South Asia as a base for illicit manufacture of and trafficking in amphetamine-type (having hallucinogenic properties) stimulants, largely because of the wide availability of precursor chemicals in that region.
"Illicit manufacture of all types of amphetaminetype stimulants has been detected; the detected manufacturing sites have ranged from small-scale kitchen laboratories to large-scale manufacturing facilities.
"Bangladesh and India continue to be used by transnational organised criminal groups to divert precursors of amphetamine-type stimulants, because of the wide availability of the precursors ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in those countries," it said.
Citing the widespread illicit cultivation of cannabis plants in South Asia, the report said "In India, 681 hectares of cannabis plants were eradicated in 2010, and 95 hectares were eradicated in the first half of 2011".
India reported having seized a total of 173 tons of cannabis herb and 4.3 tons of cannabis resin in 2010. In the first half of 2011, 2.66 tons were reported to have been seized in the country.
In India, the most abused pharmaceutical preparations are cough formulations containing codeine and various benzodiazepines, including diazepam, alprazolam, nitrazepam and lorazepam, and analgesics, including buprenorphine and dextropropoxyphene.
"The abuse of pharmaceutical preparations in India is facilitated by the failure of many pharmacies to comply with prescription requirements. In addition, some of the preparations abused in India are preparations in Schedule III of the 1961 Convention, for which a prescription is not mandatory," the report said.
The INCB has urged the government to strengthen measures to ensure pharmacies comply with prescription requirements and to "ensure that over-the-counter pharmaceutical preparations are not diverted to be used for non-medical purposes".
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