Internet a growing tool for drug trafficking

The so called war on drugs is 100 years old this year, yet the taking of illicit drugs is showing few signs of coming under control.

The International Opium Commission, first convened in Shanghai in 1909 and since then the number of internationally-controlled substances has grown to more than 200. The United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual report released yesterday, paints a picture of an ever-expanding and increasingly violent drugs market, with new trafficking routes being opened regularly, many of them in our region.

WATTERS: It will be an ongoing battle. I think it’s like a lot of other things we face in life, poverty, discrimination and racism. It’s a continuing battle. But certainly things would be a great deal worse if it hadn’t been for what was launched in China in the year 2009 [1909]. For example, in 2009 [1909], there was, in China alone there was three thousand tonnes of morphine equivalent of opium being consumed. Now in the whole world today, there’s not that much, including what’s being used legally. So we know there’s been a very significant downturn in the use of that drug, even though it’s very much in the hands of very clever criminal syndicates, but we’ve certainly controlled it to a very large extent.

LAM: Your report also notes that the internet is playing an increasing role in the trafficking of legal and unauthorised prescription drugs. How is the Internet being used for drug trafficking?

WATTERS: Well Sen, like a lot of other areas in our modern life, we’re having to cope with changes in technology and certainly the rapid movement of information and the free movement of information on the Internet allows for criminal syndicates around the world to plan their movements of drugs and place their orders using various sorts of cryptology, avoiding the open statement. Then on top of that, we have what we call the Internet pharmacy proliferation around the world and these pharmacies are very often, not all, but a significant number of fronts for Illegal organisations to allow controlled substances to be moved freely from country to country through the postal systems.

LAM: And indeed, with modern communications being so efficient now, the drugs do pass quite easily from country to country. For instance, your report pointed out that Chinese chemicals are being used by Canadian ecstasy manufacturers to make drugs which then end up being sold in Australia and Japan. So it’s quite a daunting challenge, isn’t it?

WATTERS: Yes, it’s an international movement and certainly part of what we’ve been doing at the International Narcotics Control Board is seeking to control those precursors and we do very, very well in many ways, but when you think that a country like China with its vast numbers, they tell us they have got 50,000 factories there that are producing chemicals that could be diverted illicitly into the methamphedamine markets, so it’s a huge task and the India similarly has a big task just to control these things.

LAM: So is there a sort of common attitude by world authorities towards drugs and drug use. For instance, the chair of Britain’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt, recently said that using ecstasy was no more dangerous than horse riding. So are we wasting resources by targeting drugs like ecstasy?

WATTERS: Well, with all due respect, I think he’s being very foolish to even talk like that. One of the difficulties we face in many countries is to use the term recreational or party in relationship to dangerous drugs. We do know that more than 95 per cent of the member states of the United Nations are signatories to the convention and that covers 99 per cent of the world’s population. So in principle, they all agree that we should control drugs, make available where necessary, but certainly not allow for the recreational use of these dangerous substances and to suggest that…there is so much medical evidence that these methamphetamine type drugs can have seriously long term psychotic affects. I suppose it could be said if you fell of a horse and landed on your head, that might be equivalent.
presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Major Brian Watters from the Salvation Army is a Member of the International Narcotics Control Board and Chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs Feb20th 2009

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