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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 05:59 GMT
Internet aids narcotics trade
Chat rooms can be protected against the police
The use of the internet by drug traffickers is making the fight against narcotic abuse harder, a UN watchdog has warned.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its 2001 report that illegal drugs are being sold over the internet, often with the aid of private chat rooms protected from law enforcers.

Heroin use is on the increase worldwide
Drug dealers using the internet are often evading capture because of the failure by some countries to adopt laws on cyber crime, the report says.

The INIB, based in Vienna, also revealed that Burma became the world's top illicit opium producer last year after cultivation in Afghanistan was stopped in 2000 by the former Taleban regime.

The board is also urging countries to resist calls for the legalisation of cannabis, saying it would be an "historical mistake" to treat the drug like alcohol or tobacco.

Crime online

Reports from the Czech Republic reveal that narcotics deals were struck online at internet cafes or using mobile phones.

Dutch firms were using the web to sell cannabis seeds and products all over the world, the report revealed.

The INCB said it believed young people were particularly at risk from drug dealers using the internet.

It found that dealers were using internet bank accounts to launder drug money, while online pharmacies were making prescription-only drugs readily available.

The Taleban prohibited the cultivation of opium
It added: "The INCB is particularly concerned that countries without adequate legislation against crime involving new technologies may become sanctuaries."

In Africa, the board said it feared that the increase in intravenous heroin use would hasten the spread of HIV/Aids on the continent.

In South Africa alone, intravenous drug use had increased 40% in the past three years.

In North America, the use of cocaine appeared to be stabilising but heroin abuse among the young was increasing.

Impact on health

Afghanistan is still a key country in the world opium trade and after the overthrow of the Taleban, large quantities of the drug were released on to the market, said the INCB.

Heroin abuse was increasing throughout South Asia, the report said, with a shift away from smoking and inhaling the drug towards injecting it.

More heroin is also being used in central and eastern Europe, which remained a popular transit zone for traffickers.

Intravenous use is contributing to a rise in HIV/Aids and Hepatitis C infections in the region.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Afghanistan
"Heroin and opium may flood the market"
Int.Narcotics Control Board's Prof Hamid Ghodse
"Drug traffickers make good use of new technology"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN concern over Afghan drug revival
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
US drops Afghan drug sanctions
04 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The heroin trail
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
Desperate Afghans seek illicit harvest
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