How pharmacists and e-commerce fosters drug problems globally

unsplash-logoTobias Tullius

Next week, starting at 2nd March, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is holding its annual session. The participants want to tackle the world drug problem. That sounds huge. But are current problems really a matter of size? No.

In a tweet from U.S. Mission to the UN, emphasis is put on the illicit use of drugs. That seems necessary. Statistics show that around 271 million adults worldwide use drugs, about 30 million of them regularly.

But among them are over 219 million people who use cannabis. Now the situation with cannabis is different. While the United Nations itself declared cannabis illegal in the 1920s, the drug is now legal again in many countries, at least as a medicine. 

So while most of the people officially classified as users of illegal drugs today are restricted to cannabis, there is a completely different danger that cannot yet be measured in absolute numbers: synthetic drugs. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports: “Synthetic opioids are playing an increasingly important role.In the United States and Canada, the current opioid epidemic is driven by the consumption of synthetic opioids, in particular fentanyl derivatives.This is not the case in Europe, but there are concerns in this respect.Some 50 new synthetic opioids have been notified to the EU early warning system for new psychoactive substances.Many of these substances have been associated with severe poisoning and deaths.Some, such as Carfentanil, are extremely potent, i.e. they can be smuggled in very small quantities that are difficult to detect and converted into thousands of individual doses.Moreover, synthetic opioids, commonly used as drugs, appear to play a greater role in drug problems in many parts of Europe”.

Das “Economic and Social Council” der United Nations hat das Thema ebenfalls auf dem Radar. Für die nun stattfindende Sitzung der CND ist ein Papier in Vorbereitung, dass die Public-Private-Partnerships bei der Bekämpfung der synthetischen Drogenschwemme betont. Das klingt positiv. Gemeint ist jedoch etwas anderes. Den Behörden wäre schon sehr damit gedient, wenn die privaten Player ihrer Verantwortung gerecht würden, den Handel mit synthetischen Drogen auf den Plattformen einzudämmen. In dem Papier, welches @EurObsIT vorliegt, heißt es: “The UNO is noting with concern that drug traffickers continue to exploit tools of modern commerce, including financial transfer services and platforms, to traffic in precursors, pre-precursor chemicals and synthetic drugs, and welcoming efforts by the private sector to safeguard their supply chains, products and platforms from such exploitation.”

That’s putting it very diplomatically. So while the majority of the general media is still focusing on absolute numbers, and is thus focusing on a drug (cannabis) that is no longer so sure of being a dangerous drug in the world – synthetic drugs remain below the attention threshold. Yet they are the biggest problem for the experts at the UN, because the market is unregulated and many legal trading platforms make a profit. It seems that the time has come for new regulation. The pharmaceutical companies and online platforms, the payment service providers and the United Nations have no choice but to sit down at the same table. But it seems as usual: the private sector shuns regulation like the devil shuns holy water.