Illegal "Internet pharmacies" are using social media to market drugs to young people, an international report said on Tuesday.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which monitors the implementation of U.N. drug control conventions, said illicit drugs as well as prescription medicines were being ordered online from such unscrupulous operations.
"Disturbingly, illegal Internet pharmacies have started to use social media to publicize their websites, which can put large audiences at risk of dangerous products," INCB President Hamid Ghodse said in a statement accompanying its 2011 report.
He told a news conference in London that the rogue pharmacists used social media such as YouTube or Facebook to draw people to chatrooms and engage them "in a variety of ways which, in the first instance, you do not see as that they are marketing the drug....then of course they are bombarding them with the sort of drugs."
The Vienna-based body called on governments to shut down illegal Internet drug activity and to seize substances smuggled via the postal system, adding that many of the medicines sold in this way were counterfeit.
"Key aspects of illegal Internet pharmacies' activities include smuggling their products to consumers, finding hosting space for their websites and convincing consumers that they are, in fact, legitimate," it added.
The INCB said it had information on more than 12,000 seizures of "internationally controlled substances" sent via the postal system in 2010, including legal substances. It said over 5,500 of those substances were drugs of illicit origin but did not name them.
"India was identified as the leading country of origin for these substances, accounting for 58 percent of the substances seized, while the United States, China and Poland were also identified as significant countries of origin."
The INCB said it has published guidelines for governments on preventing illegal drugs sale via the Internet but that further progress was needed.
"Barriers to implementation that need to be addressed are inadequate legislative or regulatory frameworks, insufficient technology and lack of staff," it said. "International cooperation in counteracting this issue is essential."
In its annual report, the INCB also said that drug abuse and drug trafficking had become virtually endemic in communities the world over, "part of a vicious cycle involving a wide array of social problems such as violence, organized crime, corruption, unemployment, poor health and poor education."