Press Releases

1 March 2007

INCB Warns of Counterfeit Medicines Flooding Markets

Prescription drug abuse and drug abuse in Afghanistan also highlighted at INCB Annual Report Launch

                VIENNA 1 March (UN Information Service) -- The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned that the flood of counterfeit medicines now available in many countries could have fatal consequences for consumers, at the launch of its Annual Report today in Vienna, Austria. 

     The danger is real and sizeable. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25-50 per cent of medicines consumed in developing countries are believed to be counterfeit. The problem is further compounded by the fact that counterfeit drugs are easy to manufacture and resemble genuine drugs in packaging and labelling.

    "It is important for consumers to realize that what they think is cut-price medication bought on an unregulated market may have potentially lethal effects whenever the consumed drugs are not the genuine product or are taken without medical advice. Instead of healing, they can take lives," said Dr. Philip O. Emafo, President, INCB.

     The Board is especially concerned about the existence of unregulated markets where substandard, and sometimes even lethal medication is sold to unsuspecting customers. Unregulated markets are often supplied with stolen and diverted drugs, illicitly manufactured pharmaceuticals or through illegal sales on the Internet. There is also evidence that an increasing number of licensed individuals an/or entities are contravening laws to sell controlled drugs without a prescription.

     "The problem of counterfeit medication and abuse of pharmaceuticals containing controlled substances bought without prescriptions has been in existence for some time. However, the rapid expansion of unregulated markets has dramatically worsened the situation," said Dr. Emafo.

     The Board is calling on Member States to enforce legislation to ensure that narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are not illegally manufactured or diverted from licit manufacture and distribution channels to unregulated markets.

     Prescription Drug Abuse to Surpass Illicit Drug Abuse

     The abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs is set to exceed illicit drug abuse, according to the Board. In fact, medication containing narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances has become a drug of first choice in many cases, rather than being abused as a substitute. The demand for these drugs is so high, that it has given rise to a new problem - that of counterfeit products. Abuse of prescription drugs can have lethal effects and the number of deaths related to the abuse of narcotic drugs is on the rise. According to Dr. Emafo, President of the Board, "The very high potency of some of the synthetic narcotic drugs available as prescription drugs presents, in fact, a higher overdose risk than the abuse of illicit drugs".

      Slimming Craze Fuelled by Drugs

     The Board warned that the trend of abusing anorectics for slimming is increasing, despite the risk of potentially fatal consequences. Anorectics, used against obesity, as well as for the treatment of narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder (ADD), are meant to be prescribed and monitored by doctors. However, given their ability to suppress the sensation of hunger, an alarming number of people have begun to abuse them in the hope of losing weight. Governments and concerned parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that the use of anorectics is limited to medical purposes.

       Drug Situation in Afghanistan Deteriorating Rapidly

     Illicit opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has reached record high levels in 2006, causing grave concern to the Board. One third of the Afghan economy remains illicit opium based, creating a situation that needs to be urgently addressed by the Government of Afghanistan, with assistance from the international community. In particular, the Board believes swift action needs to be taken to address the problem of corruption, otherwise Government efforts in drug control will be undermined, further hindering political progress, economic growth and social development in the country.

      Regional Highlights

     The Report discusses, region by region, major trends in drug abuse and trafficking worldwide. In Afghanistan, illicit opium poppy cultivation increased by 59 per cent in 2006 and the level of production increased by nearly 50 per cent to a record 6,100 tons. There are concerns that Afghan opiate trafficking is having a destabilizing effect in neighbouring countries as well as in Central Asia and the Russian Federation, where organized crime, corruption and high illicit demand for opiates are on the rise.

     In Europe, the Board notes the continent has become the second largest illicit market for cocaine in the world. Europe also continues to be one of the main illicit markets in the world for stimulants.

     Methamphetamine abuse is the fastest-growing drug threat in North America, bringing with it a host of health and law enforcement issues. The Board is also particularly concerned about the high and increasing level of prescription drug abuse in North America.     

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For further information, please contact:

Jaya Mohan
 Information Officer, UNIS Vienna
Tel.: +(43-1) 26060-4448