India rises as global illegal drug hub

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 28, 2013 02:15 hrs
Delhi runs to fight against drug abuse

India has emerged as a new hub of New Psychoactive Substances [NPS], an umbrella term for unregulated [new] psychoactive substances or products intended to mimic the effects of controlled drugs.

What this means is that although India may be stuck in the dark ages in many attitudes [principally towards women and hygiene], it has raced ahead in global drug use trends.

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] released the World Drug Report 2013 yesterday and the news is fairly alarming for India.

Alcohol and drug use is never fully revealed. Humans tend to minimise usage even if they share information. In that sense, the report may not reflect the whole truth.

But since people almost never claim to be drug users if they are not, the report does not lie. If anything, drug use may be more than what is reported.

New Psychoactive Substances and India

According to the report, India and China are most frequently named as source countries for NPS in Asia, though a number of European countries are also mentioned, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine and the UK.

Most of the new psychoactive substances found on the European market are — according to the report — imported from India and, to a larger degree, from China.

Most European and North American countries, and Australia, have identified India and China as primary sources of NPS.

Synthetic cannabinoids, the most widely prevalent group of NPS, played a role in India at least since mid-2010. How did they discover this? Because it was reflected in Internet searches.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration says pharmaceutical companies operating in India were identified in several cases as the source for ketamine found on the American market.

Ketamine was the fifth most widely consumed substance in 2010 In India. The third largest seizures of ketamine were reported in India [9 per cent] in the decade between 2001 and 2011, only below Taiwan [13 per cent] and China [58 per cent].

Ketamine is a drug that mimics ecstasy. It is listed as a Class C drug in the West but there are indications that it might be classified as Class A now.

The international drug control system is floundering

The UNODC says the speed and creativity of the phenomenon of NPS has baffled the world’s drug enforcers. The number of NPS reported was 251 in mid-2012 and may be even more now as we are in mid-2013.

For perspective, there were 166 reported NPS in 2009. Thus, in three years it rose by 50 per cent.

Such is the scale that for the first time, the number of NPS has exceeded the total number of substances under international control [234].

The UNODC describes NPS as substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by international drug conventions, but which may pose a public health threat.

The term ‘new’ does not necessarily refer to new inventions but to substances that have newly become available in specific markets.

Drug controllers have no long-term data; therefore, they have no perspective on NPS. Which means the moment a substance is scheduled or listed as a controlled item, another one replaces it.

This makes it tough to study the long-term impact of a substance on usage and its health effects.

The drug report laments: The problem of NPS is a hydra-headed one in that manufacturers produce new variants to escape the new legal frameworks that are constantly being developed to control known substances.

These substances include synthetic and plant-based psychoactive substances, and have rapidly spread in widely dispersed markets.

The UNODC survey of NPS shows Asia as the primary region of production of such substances, ahead of Europe and the Americas. And in Asia, it is largely India and China.

Other highs for India

Heroin from India is going all the way to Africa mainly through Kenya which is a transit country for heroin trafficked to Europe and the United States.

The heroin from India, and Pakistan, is entering Kenya by sea and air and is sent to other markets, either directly to Europe or via West Africa.

In heroin trafficking India has now achieved a dubiously high ranking: It is at the eighth spot for the years between 2001 and 2012.

In 2011 India eradicated an astonishing 5,746 hectares of opium poppy cultivation. This is comparable to Myanmar's 7,058 hectares; Myanmar has a very high rate of heroin production.

India has also emerged as a leading source of cannabis resin [hashish]. In 2011 India was one of the main countries mentioned as a source nation. Other countries at the top here were Morocco, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan [although Pakistan says all resin seized in its territory originated in Afghanistan].

It is difficult though to say with certainty whether India is a major country of hashish origin or of transit.

And in cannabis [marijuana] trafficking India is now at the 15th spot for the years between 2001 and 2012. For perspective, India eradicated 1,112 hectares of cannabis cultivation in 2011 alone.

The good news

India has a low rate of injecting drug use. So low that it pulled down the rate of injecting drug use in South Asia to 0.03 per cent [of the population aged 15-64], considerably lower than any other region.

Says the drug report: Countries and areas with the highest rates of injecting drug use — more than 3.5 times the global average — are Azerbaijan (5.2 per cent), Seychelles (2.3 per cent), the Russian Federation (2.3 per cent), Estonia (1.5 per cent), Georgia (1.3 per cent), Canada (1.3 per cent), the Republic of Moldova (1.2 per cent), Puerto Rico (1.15 per cent), Latvia (1.15 per cent) and Belarus (1.11 per cent).

In terms of sheer numbers, China, the Russian Federation and the US have the largest numbers of those who inject drugs. Combined, they account for an estimated 46 per cent, or nearly one in two, people who inject drugs globally.

India has far less.

Also, the seizures of heroin and morphine in India have fallen in 2011; it stands at 0.58 tons. A caution here: Right now, in 2013, heroin seizures seem to be picking up with a recent catch of 100 kilos of heroin near the Punjab area among the biggest in recent times.

To sum up

India is among the world leaders in NPS. This is hurting global enforcement seriously.

Much of the NPS in India are sourced on the Internet. Ketamine appears to be the most widely consumed NPS here.

India ranks among the top 10 nations in heroin trafficking and among the top 15 in marijuana trafficking.

India has low drug injecting use although heroin seizures have picked up again this year.

How does all this concern you?

You might know someone who uses drugs. The new trend is NPS which makes it more difficult to spot the problem.

If someone you know has a drug problem, do share your comments. It is a far greater concern than anything our politicians do.

More from the author:

Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and

He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.

Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at

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