Illegal internet pharmacies are selling illicit drugs and prescription medicines online and are increasingly targeting young people, a UN drug agency warned Tuesday.
The International Narcotics Control Board also described North America as continuing to be "the world's largest illicit drug market" in 2010; parts of Europe as the homes of industrial-scale cannabis factories; and growing poppy cultivation in West Asia.
Focusing on internet pharmacies as a growing threat, a summary of the agency's 2011 report cited the agency's head, Hamid Ghodse, as saying such use of social media "can put large, and especially young, audiences at risk of dangerous products."
The Vienna-based board urged governments to close down illegal internet pharmacies. It also called on them to seize substances that have been illicitly ordered on the internet and smuggled through the mail.
The organization noted "high levels of illicit drug production manufacture, trade and consumption," with "vast amounts produced in all three countries" in North America — the United States, Canada and Mexico.
About 90 per cent of the cocaine reaching the United States is transited through Mexico, even as an increasingly harsh crackdown by Mexican authorities is forcing some drug cartels to move their operations to Central America, the agency said.
It identified Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua as achieving the status of "major transit countries for smuggling drugs primarily destined for the United States" in 2010.
Opiate market flourishing in Europe
Cannabis was a major problem in Western and Central Europe, with plants "increasingly cultivated on an industrial scale, mainly indoors, and with the involvement of organized criminal groups," the agency said.
"Europe accounts for the largest proportion of the global opiate market, and the abuse of heroin is the biggest drug problem in Europe in terms of morbidity and mortality," according to the summary.
The agency noted "significant increases in opium production" in West Asia last year and warned that higher prices for crop growers in Afghanistan and planned cutbacks in international troops in the country "could lead to even further increases in production beyond 2011."
It identified parts of Africa as representing a growing problem, both in terms of drug transit routes and of opiate consumption.
Cocaine trafficking from South America through Africa and into Europe "has emerged as a major threat in recent years," the agency said, with criminals increasingly shipping the drugs in containers and commercial aircraft.
"Heroin enters the continent through East Africa and is smuggled, either directly or via West Africa, into Europe and other regions," said the summary noting that authorities made "record seizures" of heroin in Kenya and Tanzania last year.