Economy

India among top suppliers of pharma drugs used in trafficking: UN report

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on February 27, 2020 Published on February 27, 2020

Globally most of the tramadol — a controlled substance — seized between 2013 and 2017 was reported to have originated in India

Drug traffickers now tend to smuggle pharmaceutical drugs rather than illicit drugs such as ‘hashish’ and ‘heroin’ because of the more lenient penalties imposed for smuggling of controlled pharmaceutical drugs. According to the 2019 report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released by United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), India features prominently among top manufacturers of illicit and licit drugs that are smuggled to other countries and into the hands of addicts.

The UNODC has pulled up India for not submitting mandatory and voluntary statistical reports on manufacturing, importing and exporting of licit drug and raw material data, known as Form P, by the deadline. Other countries that did not comply are Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Japan, Luxembourg and Spain.

Tramadol source

The report also states that India is a significant source of trafficked, falsified, sub-standard or illicitly manufactured products branded and marketed as ‘tramadol,’ that are seized worldwide. Tramadol is an opioid pain medicine that is addictive and abused for recreational purposes.

Globally, most of the tramadol, which is not an internationally controlled substance, that was seized from 2013 to 2017 was reported to have originated in India. Available data indicate that the tramadol being used for non-medical purposes in Africa is illicitly manufactured in South Asia. Further, India was the source of 87 per cent of the tramadol seized in Ghana in 2017. Available data suggest that in recent years India has emerged as the centre of manufacturing of tramadol destined for clandestine markets.

Codeine-based preparations, particularly a cough syrup, Phensedyl, continued to be seized in the region. India reported, through the monthly drug reports of the Narcotics Control Bureau, that the country’s authorities seized more than 51,821 bottles of Phensedyl in 2018.

Other seizures

The report further stated that in India, seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants peaked again in 2018, at 931 kg. The highest total annual seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants in India was in 2016, when there was a record 1.7 tons of seizures, before falling sharply to 95 kg in 2017. Seizures of methaqualone in the country decreased to 99 kg in 2018, compared with 124 kg in 2017. The highest single seizure of methaqualone, on 25 June, 2018, was of 30 kg. It was destined for the United States. Methaqualone is a sedative and hypnotic medication. Buprenorphine, another opioid pain relieving medication is also continued to be seized in India in both injectable and tablet forms.

Another drug, Phenobarbital, a substance included on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for treating epilepsy, is one of the most internationally traded controlled psychotropic substances, with more than 161 countries reporting imports of the substance in 2018. China is the lead manufacturing country of phenobarbital, having produced 154 tons in 2018, followed by India and Hungary, at 87.2 tons and 32.3 tons, respectively, the report stated.

Precursor diversion

The report has also noted that diversion of controlled pharmaceutical precursors, in particular ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, from licit to illicit channels has continued in India. A precursor is a compound that participates in a chemical reaction to produce another compound.

According to the Narcotics Control Bureau of India, 1.8 tons of pseudoephedrine were confiscated in Noida, in a single seizure on May 11 last year. This was the largest seizure on record in the country. There have been reports of seizures of pharmaceutical preparations containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine trafficked from India to Myanmar for the purpose of precursor extraction.

Also, the report noted that there was an exceptionally large total quantity of acetic anhydride seizures up to 8,998 litres in India in 2018. That amount was substantially higher than the total seizures of acetic anhydride in the four previous years – 23 litres in 2017, 2,464 litres in 2016, 4 litres in 2015 and 93 litres in 2014. “Of the total seizures of acetic anhydride in 2018, 8,937 litres were confiscated in a single seizure effected in Noida and New Delhi on October 20 in 2018. The chemical was destined for a consignee in Afghanistan.

For example, according to information on licit trade in 2018, the Governments of China, Ecuador, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Korea and the United States — each of which requires pre-export notification for shipments of acetic anhydride — reported having received shipments of acetic anhydride from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. However, those shipments were not pre-notified by means of the PEN Online system, which is used by the International Narcotics Control Board for tracking, by the authorities in the exporting countries, making it difficult to monitor the supply chain.

Published on February 27, 2020
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