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Report: Drug traffickers target middle class

Drug traffickers are targeting middle-class Americans with high-purity heroin, a U.N. drug agency warns in a report being released Wednesday. The report says cyberspace continues to be a venue for illicit drug sales.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Drug traffickers are targeting middle-class Americans with high-purity heroin that users can smoke rather than inject, a U.N. drug agency warns in a report being released Wednesday.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board — an independent U.N. body that monitors the global drug situation — says producers are tailoring new narcotics products to meet the sensitivities of Americans who find injecting drugs repulsive.

“This shows how the illicit market operates in a very smart way by selling a drug to a new class of users by telling them, ‘Use it in a different way, and you won’t become addicted,”’ INCB member Rainer Wolfgang Schmid told The Associated Press.

Dealers “have a lot of intelligent ideas to keep production going and keep the business going,” he said. “That’s why we need flexible and intelligent prevention projects and messages.”

‘Disrupt the market’
A spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy declined to comment on the targeting issue but said U.S. policy was to “disrupt the market” for narcotics as much as possible.

“We acknowledge that we need a smart drugs policy, and we want to create a depression in the drugs market,” said ONDCP spokesman Rafael Lemaitre, adding that teenage drug abuse has fallen by 11 percent over the past two years.

The U.N. report also warns that dealers continue to use cyberspace as a way of directly marketing controlled substances to vulnerable targets such as former hospital patients, people seeking prescription drugs without seeing a doctor and users addicted to several drugs.

In the United States, 90 percent of orders through Internet pharmacies that were intercepted by authorities were for controlled drugs — including some antidepressants — which are responsible for increasing numbers of emergency room admissions, the report says.

Political turmoil a factor
Globally, the report warns that political instability attracts narcotics producers.

Increasing levels of opium poppy production in Afghanistan eventually may make opium-based narcotics cheaper in the United States and Europe, the report warns.

“If supply from Afghanistan is increasing, it has an effect on prices, and they will go down,” said International Narcotics Control Board secretary Herbert Schaepe. “There is a relationship between availability and abuse.”

A report on global narcotics by the U.S. State Department on Monday also warned of near-record levels of opium poppy production in Afghanistan, saying narcotics dealers were exploiting poor farmers.

The opium poppy is the raw material for heroin.

Iraq as target?
Schaepe said Iraq also could become a future target for producers because of the weakness of state controls.

In Central Asia, where drug abuse has risen significantly over the past few years, the International Narcotics Control Board criticized Turkmenistan for failing to cooperate in international efforts to curtail the drug trade.

The report says Turkmenistan has not reported any seizures of opiates and other drugs since 2000. It said the country’s cooperation was vital to fighting the drug trade in the region.

The U.N. agency also criticized Canada for having opened a drug injection room — a place where users can inject drugs they have bought illegally — in Vancouver last June. Canada set up the injection room as a pilot project designed to reduce the health and public order problems associated with illegal injection drug use.

Focus on marijuana
The report says it views the development with concern and will evaluate it after three years. It also expresses concern about planned legislation in Canada that would punish possession of small amounts of marijuana with a ticket and a fine.

“The board is concerned that the revisions could contribute to the mistaken perception that cannabis is a harmless substance,” the report says.

A change in the classification of marijuana in Britain last year already led to mistaken perceptions regarding the legality of the drug, the International Narcotics Control Board says. The report welcomes the British plans for raising awareness of the dangers of marijuana.

The report says drug-related violence and crime cannot be solved by intervention only at a national level, and it calls for the development of community-based approaches.

“Community-based drug abuse prevention programs and community policing are critical,” the report says, adding it sees a demonstrable link between drug abuse and violence at a variety of levels.