Swiss urge global action against internet drugs

Drugs can be bought online without a doctor's prescription

Switzerland and the United States have joined forces to curb the rise in illegal sales of prescription drugs over the internet.

This content was published on March 15, 2004 - 17:20

The two countries called for international action in a resolution tabled on Monday at the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.

The joint resolution states that every country should introduce and enforce laws against the sale of narcotics and psychotropic drugs over the internet.

“An estimated 4,000 to 8,000 packages come across the border into Switzerland containing medicines with narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances,” said Paul Dietschy, a spokesman for Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products.

“The problem worldwide is huge and increases each year,” he told swissinfo. “It began about four to five years ago and we think it doubles each year.”

The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) highlighted the issue in its annual report published earlier this month.

The INCB noted that Switzerland had seen a big increase in seizures of narcotic drugs bought over the internet.

The agency said many of these illegal deliveries came from Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities are now working with their Swiss counterparts to resolve the problem.


The INCB said countries that failed to enforce laws against the sale of drugs over the internet were exacerbating the problem.

“Controlling internet pharmacies is a complicated task, because they are operating all over the world and they can and do relocate their business when a particular country strengthens its legislation and law enforcement,” said the INCB.

In Switzerland, it is against the law to import and export psychotropic or mind-altering substances by mail without formal authorisation.

When packages of unauthorised medicine are found at the Swiss border, they are confiscated and the addressees informed that ordering psychotropic substances via the internet is not permitted.

Health risk

Both Swissmedic and the INCB say internet pharmacies mainly cater for people who are already dependent on tranquilisers, stimulants and other narcotic drugs but can no longer get them through legal channels.

Illegal internet pharmacies do not require a doctor’s prescription and simply offer online or over-the-phone consultations with the customer.

Swissmedic said one of its main concerns was that drugs sold over the internet could contain counterfeit or out of date substances.

“Overall, I think that buying any medicine over the internet - not only psychotropic substances and narcotic drugs - is a risk to your health,” said Dietschy.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

Key facts

The World Health Organization estimates that the trade in fake medicine is worth $32 billion (SFr41 billion) each year.
An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 packages containing mail-ordered medicine are sent to Switzerland each year.
Swissmedic estimates that 4,000 to 8,000 packages containing medicines with narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances cross the border into Switzerland.
There are no precise figures on the scale of the internet drugs trade.

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