By Rajnish Singh, New Delhi, July 24 IANS | 3 months ago

After cannabis and heroin, the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs is rising among subcontinental drug users because of their easy availability at cheap rates and this is a cause for concern, a top UN official has said.

"Cannabis is easily available in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Heroin is also available at cheaper rates, but there are also pharmaceutical drugs which are very cheap in this region and is a serious problem," Cristina Albertine, the South Asia representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told IANS in an interview.

Recalling one of her visits to a drug rehabilitation centre in Kolkata, Albertine said: "I had gone to a Kolkata rehabilitation centre where all the clients were rickshaw pullers who injected heroin to cope up with the life.

"The drugs are very cheap in the region. As you (India) are very close to Afghanistan and Myanmar, heroin is very cheap there. I guess that the regions close to productive sites get heroin at very cheap rates," Albertine said in the interaction at the UNODC India office here.

According to Albertine, misuse of pharmaceutical drugs poses a serious problem for India and South Asian countries because of their availability at low prices.

"You don't need too much financial security to be able to afford it," she said. Codeine-based cough syrups, diazepam and proxyvon are some of the pharmaceutical drugs that are quite popular among addicts.

"Yaba pills are very famous in Bangladesh and Myanmar," Albertine added.

She said once hooked on to drugs, it is very difficult to kick the habit. "India, Nepal and Bangladesh cultivate cannabis. Misuse of synthetic and pharmaceutical drugs is a big concern as they are produced by pharmaceutical companies in India and Bangladesh," Albertine said.

Talking about the sources and routes of drugs, Albertine said: "Opiate and heroin basically come from Afghanistan. Then it comes through Pakistan to India."

"You also have some influx from Myanmar into northeast (India). Then you have the synthetic drug which comes from Southeast Asia and often through Myanmar and Bangladesh."

The UNODC has no exact figure of drug addicts in India since the Indian government has not maintained such records since 2001, Albertine said.

"We don't have any national survey. India had done a survey in 2001, which was published in 2004," Albertine said.

India has over 70 million drug addicts, according to a survey conducted by the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry and UNODC.

Albertine said Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have also not conducted drug surveys, though Nepal did so a while ago.

(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at

(Posted on 24-07-2014)

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