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UN Issues Warning Over Prescription Drug Abuse

February 24, 2010

The UN’s top global drug regulator said on Wednesday that more people are turning to prescription drug abuse than cocaine, heroin and ecstasy combined.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said that use of “date-rape drugs” is climbing as well, as sexual predators find new ways to get around the tight controls on substances by switching to drugs not banned by international drug laws. Drugs like ketamine and gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) have replaced Rohypnol, which was one of the most commonly used sexual assault drugs of its time.

Several high-profile celebrity deaths have gotten the group to focus its attention on prescription drug abuse. Michael Jackson’s death last year made international headlines both for his iconic status and for the misuse of prescription drugs which led to his untimely demise.

Prescription drug abuse in the United States “is now the second most important drug abuse issue after cannabis,” said the INCB. In 2008 there were as many as 6.2 million people addicted to prescription drugs.

In recent years “abuse of such drugs has been spreading over the world,” Hamid Ghodse, director of the International Center for Drug Policy at St George’s University in London, told Reuters. He added that it was an issue which needs urgent attention.

Ghodse, one of the authors on the report, stated that it was difficult to get comprehensive data on the abuse of pharmaceuticals, which he described as a “hidden problem,” but in Germany, for example, an estimated 1.4 to 1.9 million people were addicted to prescription drugs.

In Canada, about 1 in 50 people abuse prescription drugs, and in several European countries, such as France and Italy, between 10 to 18 percent of students use sedatives and/or tranquilizers without prescription.

A huge problem that poses a serious threat are illegal internet pharmacies. These online outlets sell stolen and counterfeited medicines worldwide, and act as a major source for prescription drug abusers, the INCB said. They have urged governments to monitor these illegal businesses closely or shut them down.

Stricter control measures were implemented by governments and pharmaceutical companies to keep Rohypnol out of the hands of would-be sexual predators. That drug is rarely used now, but newer drugs that are easy to get a hold of are coming out, said Ghodse. In many countries these types are drugs are readily available, and they “frequently fall into criminal hands,” he added.

INCB president Sevil Atasoy said much greater efforts needed to be put into play to prevent drug abuse of any kind by cutting off demand and breaking up the supply chain. However, criminal organizations are continuously finding new ways to keep drug manufacturing operations alive.

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