Wednesday, February 21, 2001

NEW YORK The Internet has become a powerful sales tool for traffickers of illegal narcotics and prescription drugs, according to a U.N. report that warned the dark side of globalization had made illicit drugs easier than ever to obtain.
On-line pharmacies are dispensing legal medications, from Viagra to addictive pain relievers, without prescription, according to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which said the drugs should not be dispensed without a doctor’s prescription or other professional oversight.
Illegal drugs, particularly psychotropics and amphetamines, are increasingly available from Internet sites, the group warned in a report prepared for release today.
The report called improper drug use the fastest growing problem in the industrialized world.
Because the tablets and liquids can be packaged in small, innocuously labeled containers, they pass unsuspected through the usual mail controls, and few of the shippers are apprehended.
“It started as a trickle and wham! now it’s a mushroom cloud,” said INCB board member Herbert Okun, former U.S. ambassador to Germany and the United Nations, who has been involved with the Vienna drug board since 1992.
He said he didn’t have figures on Internet drug sales, “but you can see just by looking on your computer screen how many sites there are, how many links, the whole thing is exploding.”
Paraphernalia also is abundant over the Web, including Dutch hydroponic systems for growing high-potency marijuana and recipes for stirring up batches of Ecstasy in kitchens or basement labs.
The INCB first flagged Internet sales as a potential problem in 1996, but it said in the new report that few governments had yet figured out how to control proscribed Internet activity.
The annual report, compiled by the Vienna-based INCB, tracks trends in illicit drug production and consumption around the world.
This year’s report, based on 2000 statistics, found that the use of Ecstasy is on the rise in the United States while heroin is on the decline, and consumption of marijuana and cocaine remain virtually unchanged.
It also said Americans are experimenting at an earlier age.
In spite of Washington’s “war on drugs,” the INCB painted a grim picture of a uniquely American prescription-drug culture that is rich, varied and thriving.
The panel said pharmaceutical companies have “medicalized” social ills such as anxiety, sadness, weight gain and hyperactivity in children.
“As of yet there is no neurological evidence, no physiological evidence that [attention deficit disorder] exists, but we do know that we have hyperactive children,” Mr. Okun said yesterday. “Therefore, the treatment tends to be symptomatic, and therefore excessive.”
Drug manufacturers also have begun sophisticated advertising campaigns on television and in print, creating brand-name-style demand for prescription drugs.
“I can hardly get through Time or Newsweek now without seeing ads for something I’ve never heard of before,” marveled Mr. Okun. “Social anxiety disorder? An interesting acronym.”
Medication for a variety of social ills is increasingly the norm, according to the report, which said consumption of products to control weight and ease anxiety are soaring.
He said widespread “ask-your-doctor” advertising is being used to market prescription drugs for allergies, hyperactivity and fungi as cheerfully as over-the-counter antacids, in violation of international conventions.
Americans increasingly consume image-enhancing and performance-boosting drugs, the INCB found. Chief among these, Mr. Okun said, are anorectics for slimming, steroids for muscle-building, Ritalin for hyperactivity, and Viagra for sexual performance.
He said the average American consumes 10 times as much of these drugs as the typical Western European.
“We have what may be called, without exaggeration, a pill-popping culture,” he said.

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