International watchdog warning on date-rape drugs

Governments around the world must step up their efforts to limit access to "date-rape drugs," sedatives that are secretly added to a person's drink to limit their ability to resist sexual assault and remember it later, a watchdog said today.

Sexual predators can easily procure such date-rape drugs, despite existing efforts to curb their misuse, the International Narcotics Control Board said in its annual report.

Governments should quickly adopt measures to limit illegal access to such drugs, and increase public awareness about the risks of leaving food and drinks unattended at public events such as parties, the board said.

"The 'date-rape drug' phenomenon, although fairly new, is evolving rapidly as sexual abusers attempt to circumvent stricter drug controls by using substances not restricted by international drug conventions," the Vienna-based U.N. body said in a statement accompanying the report.

The misuse of flunitrazepam — sold under the brand name Rohypnol — has been reduced, thanks to international efforts, but the report said criminals are now using gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid — known as GHB — or ketamine and gamma-Butyrolactone, commonly referred to as GBL.

"Since in many countries most of those drugs are easily available, they frequently fall into criminal hands," the board said.

While GHB was put under international control in 2001, not all countries have followed up with regulations on a national level, the report said. Ketamine and GBL, meanwhile, remain outside drug conventions and can therefore be easily obtained.

"Drug traffickers obtain the substances in question through Internet pharmacies and the mail system, or from illicit manufacture," the report said.

To tackle the problem, the board urged governments to work together with the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, and to ensure that police and prosecutors have the legal authority to take appropriate action against offenders or suspects.

"In many countries, the use of substances to facilitate the commission of crime does not constitute a criminal offense and therefore cannot be properly sanctioned," the report said.

The report also included these findings:

—In many countries, prescription drugs are the second or third most abused category of drugs. In the U.S., 6.2 million people abused prescription drugs in 2008. That was more than the total number of people who abused cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy and inhalants.

—Faced with tighter controls of chemicals needed to make some drugs, traffickers and underground manufacturers are successfully shifting gears. Since a comprehensive ban on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine took effect in Mexico, for example, traffickers are increasingly using phenylacetic acid to make methamphetamine.

—In Central America and the Caribbean, drug traffickers are increasingly using light aircraft with stolen or falsified aircraft registration numbers to transport illegal substances. Drug trafficking by sea also remains a problem in the region.

—The smuggling of cocaine through West Africa from South America into Europe and elsewhere continues to be a serious problem and is contributing to an increase in cocaine abuse in the region. The seizure in Guinea in July of large amounts of chemicals and equipment suspected of being used to make synthetic drugs shows the region also remains at risk of being used by traffickers for the diversion of chemicals.

—Trafficking in amphetamine-type stimulants has increased in South Asia and the discovery of several methamphetamine laboratories in the region over the past two years shows that countries in the area are increasingly being used to produce stimulants. In India, courier and postal services have become a common means of smuggling drugs out of the country.

—While Britain, Italy, France and Germany account for most of the heroin seized in Europe, Eastern Europe's underground market for opiates has continued to expand.

—Afghanistan remains by the far the largest illegal producer of heroin and other opiates and also is becoming a major producer of cannabis.

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