Prescription drug abuse is growing in India and the problem is serious in South Asia, according to a UN report which said drugs enter the region's illicit markets through various channels, being diverted from India's pharma industry and smuggled from Afghanistan.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent UN body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide, said in its annual report that governments in South Asia continue to respond strongly to the threat of drug trafficking and abuse in the region.
"South Asia is facing a serious and growing drug abuse problem, including the abuse of pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Prescription drug abuse is growing in India," the report said.
"Drugs enter South Asia's illicit drug markets through a number of different channels, including diversion from India's pharmaceutical industry, illicit cultivation and/or manufacture within the region, and smuggling from other countries, including Afghanistan (through Pakistan) and Myanmar," it said.
Pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances continue to be diverted from India's pharmaceutical industry and are trafficked domestically or at the international level, including through illegal internet pharmacies, the report said.
Despite efforts by India to tackle the problem, diversion from illicit channels in the country remains a major source of pharmaceutical preparations trafficked in the region.
Globally also prescription drug abuse – often legally obtained medication by a friend or a family member who no longer needs it or is not using it for medical purposes – is outpacing the rates for illegal drugs in some countries.
"There is an erroneous perception that prescription drugs are less susceptible to abuse than 'illicit' drugs," INCB President Raymond Yans said.
Further, the report found that heroin smuggled into Bangladesh is mostly sourced from India. Cannabis is also smuggled into Bangladesh mostly from India and Nepal.
"India remained one of the five main source countries for illicit cannabis resin mentioned by governments worldwide in seizure reports in 2011," it added.
Seizures of heroin in India have fluctuated since 2009 and increased from 528 kg in 2011 to 853 kg in 2012.
The quantity of opium seized in India has been increasing since 2009, when about 1.7 tonnes were seized, to more than 3 tonnes in 2012.
Cocaine trafficking has historically been very limited in South Asia but it appears to be rising significantly and 42 kg of cocaine were seized in India in 2012,up from 14 kg in 2011.
India also continued to be a main source of illicit amphetamine-type stimulants manufactured and trafficked in South Asia. India is also frequently cited as a source country for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine smuggled into Myanmar.
Investment in prevention and treatment of drug abuse can lead to significant savings in health-care and crime-related costs, and alleviate the suffering of drug-dependent users and their families, the report said.