India, a key hub for illicit drug trade; use of darknet, cryptos rampant: UN body

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on March 05, 2019

Country also transit point for opiates produced illegally

India is one of the major hubs of illicit drug trade ranging from age-old cannabis to newer prescription drugs like tramadol, and designer drugs like methamphetamine.

The latest report released by United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that while the global trend of purchasing drugs over the internet, particularly on darknet trading platforms using cryptocurrencies has already spread across South Asia, it is particularly rampant in India.

“One recent study identified some online vendors over the darknet who appear to be operating from South Asia. The study identified more than 1,000 drug listings from India published across 50 online crypto-market platforms.

In 2017, authorities in India dismantled two illicit Internet pharmacies, seizing close to 130,000 tablets containing psychotropic substances. Fifteen people were arrested in the process,” the report compiled by International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of UNODC states.

Illicit route

“Up to 9600 kg of Acetic Anhydride, a pre-cursor to heroin, was seized from Delhi alone, and a trail led up to business-to-business (B2B) companies which were trading in such pre-cursors online,” said Rajesh Nandan Srivastava, Deputy Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau.

The report said India is also a transit country for illicitly produced opiates, in particular heroin. The route used by traffickers to smuggle opiates through South Asia is an alternative part of the so-called “southern route”, which runs through Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran, via the Gulf countries, continues to East Africa and on to destination countries. Debi Prasad Dash, Director-General, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), confirmed this.

Starting August last year, in a joint operation along with the Indian Army, DRI sleuths seized huge quantities of heroin across the Line of Control and the international border, said Dash.

Worrying numbers

Also, India, Australia, France and Turkey accounted for 83 per cent of global production of morphine-rich opiate raw materials in 2017, the report said. “The stocks were considered sufficient to cover 19 months of expected global demand by manufacturers at the 2018 level of demand,” it says.

India produced 66 tonnes of opium in all forms, including morphine. What is worrisome, according to INCB estimates, is only 10 per cent of the available morphine was directly consumed for pain management, and up to 88 per cent was converted into codeine which is used to manufacture cough medication.

While India is one of the top countries to produce opium and has a very vibrant pharmaceutical industry, the patients who require narcotics for pain management seldom get it, says Atul Ambekar, Professor, National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Published on March 05, 2019

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