Narcotics and Counterfeit Drugs – An Underrated Global Issue


Putting the world into a sphere of threat, not only because of its obvious effects but also its impact on social and economic aspects of human life have made this topic a very important point of discussion. The point of emphasis here is narcotism, counterfeiting drugs and its global impacts. To a layman, it may just be the social evils like corruption, the overburdened justice system, a strained healthcare system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction. But in medical jurisprudence, the term narcotics has a much wider meaning which creates a scope for a wider interpretation of the said word, it includes any class of habituating or addictive substances that blunt the senses and in increasing doses can cause confusion, stupor coma it is also used to induce anesthesia. Another shade of the definition, which is, in turn, a positive shade includes anything which has a soothing or numbing influence.

In a broad sense, narcotic drugs can be divided into four major categories. Firstly, they include opioids and opioid-like agents that include codeine, morphine, tramadol, and heroine (apart from the heroine, all others are used as potential pain-killer medications for moderate to severe pain). Tramadol and morphine are among the most notable ones and advised as an adjuvant. Other notable opioids include fentanyl, buprenorphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, propoxyphene, and hydromorphone. The second main category is cannabinoids which include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), hashish and marijuana Due to high addiction potential and risk of abuse, cannabinoids are not ideally indicated as therapeutic pain killers. According to the 2008 reports of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 15.2 million individuals (over 12 years of age) are actively involved in marijuana consumption. Long term consumption for recreational purposes is associated with deficits in coordination, memory, and intellect. Apart from a high abuse factor, hallucinogens are often coupled with adverse side effects and severe withdrawal symptoms and toxicities. Thirdly, its Hallucinogens which include PCP (Phencyclidine) and similar agents: Once again, like other types of narcotics, potential therapeutic benefits are overshadowed by complications and side effects like hallucinations, flashbacks, paranoia, and delusions. This is why they are never prescribed as pain killers. Fourthly, its stimulants which include amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate and methamphetamine that are prescription drugs for the management of neuropsychiatric illnesses and issues Illegal CNS (central nervous system) stimulants include methamphetamine, cocaine, and Ecstasy. As the name suggests, CNS stimulants increase the release of impulses and create a temporary state of euphoria. However, all the stimulants are associated with addiction potential, withdrawal symptoms, and anxiety, agitation and mood disorders with prolonged consumption.

The main hurdle which we find in the regulation of drug use and framing of suitable policies is the fine line between prescribed drugs and illicit use of those prescribed drugs. Also as in most of the countries, customary law prevails over national law forms a huge loophole giving impetus to the daunting business of drug trafficking and illicit drug use. All over the world these drugs vaguely follow particular patterns and routes through which they are supplied, imported and exported to various parts of the world, which makes it not only a national concern but a topic of global concern. Some of the most used routes are the Golden Triangle which perpetually refers to the area of mainland Southeast Asia where most of the world’s illicit opium has originated since the early 1950s and until 1990, before Afghanistan’s opium production surpassed that of Burma. It is located in the highlands of the fan-shaped relief of the Indochinese peninsula, sharing the international borders of Burma, Laos, and Thailand, run., if opium poppy cultivation has taken place in the border region shared by the three countries ever since the mid-nineteenth century, it has largely receded in the 1990s and is now confined to the Kachin and Shan States of northern and northeastern Burma along the borders of China, Laos, and Thailand. The drugs produced by the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, on the other hand, pass through the southern routes to feed the Australian, U.S., and Asian markets.

Drug trade route “Venezuela” has been a path to the United States and Europe for illicit drugs that originate in Colombia, and they go through Central America, Mexico and Caribbean countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. The main routes that Hezbollah uses for smuggling drugs are from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil into West Africa and then transported through northern Africa into Europe. Heroin is increasingly trafficked from Afghanistan to Europe and America through eastern and southern African countries. This path is known as the “southern route” or “smack track.

The main sources of these drugs are Afghanistan, along with countries that constituted the so-called Golden Crescent. From these producers, drugs are smuggled into the West and Central Asia to its destinations in Europe and the United States. Iran is now the route for smugglers, having been previously a primary trading route, due to its large-scale and costly war against drug trafficking.

Along with the illegal drug trade, a tangential business line that comes forward is counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit drugs are fake medicines that are prudently produced and are incorrectly formulated which are not genuine products in the view of international standards. People who consume these counterfeit drugs, fall prey to this widespread industry. Unfortunately, one can understand that fake medicines have been used only when they can see the obvious ill effects on the patients. High demand expensive medications such as antivirals, antianxiety drugs are common counterfeiting targets. Mostly the victims of such counterfeited drugs are people who seek medicines for a lower or discounted price. For example, according to some reports, that 60,000 and 80,000 children in Niger (Africa) with fatal falciparum malaria were treated with a counterfeit vaccine containing only chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that is generally combined with another medication, which resulted in more than 100 fatal infections. There were various efforts taken to combat this problem of counterfeit drugs because it has serious health implications for persons who use false medicines. The creation of the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) was an attempt to mitigate the threat of counterfeit drugs to international public health. The project was initially introduced within the Declaration of Rome (2006), which sought to implement an effective global strategy against counterfeit drugs. The declaration addressed the principal objectives of the IMPACT initiative, which included the possibility of creating a future international convention to enhance the existing framework against counterfeit drug trafficking. However, IMPACT received widespread criticism for not having much of an influence on the global community, largely due to conflicts of interests of Member States. As a result, the World Health Assembly (WHA) replaced IMPACT with the Member State Mechanism (MSM) in 2012. MSM aims to unify Member States by prioritizing the importance of public health throughout all of its operations rather than intellectual property, which had been a major cause of disagreement during IMPACT negotiations. However, WHO found that the MSM remains heavily under-resourced as its work has not been prioritized within the international agenda, despite its success in providing an effective global platform for the Member States to collaborate against counterfeit drugs. Furthermore, the WHO also identified that this particular challenge causes a significant delay in the majority of projects coordinated by the MSM.

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) later introduced a much more diversified list of illegal drugs that would be subject to regulation but did not address the issue of counterfeit replicas of legal drugs. As drug crime grew into a more complex issue within the global community, Member States established the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) to expand already existing measures set forth within previous drug control policies and raised global awareness on the threat of transnational organized crime groups affiliated with drug trafficking. This treaty furthermore recognized the necessity to dismantle these groups in order to protect global communities from the dangers of their criminal activities. The counterfeit drugs are still a Smokey and mirror play that need much attention within foundational global drug control treaties, whose main obligations are to control the production and trafficking of illegal drugs. For instance, the Hague International Conventions of 1912 set limitations on the production and international trade of certain substances like cannabis, cocaine and opiates. Which needs further regulating mechanism which was brought forward by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, later this convention was criticized as it did not include counterfeit replicas of illegal drugs. Furthermore, Member States established the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), to lay emphasis on the already existing policies.

In 2008, CND adopted resolution 51/13, requesting that the Member States coordinate an effective response plan to protect global public health. The following year, CND established the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem (2009), which was adopted by General Assembly resolution 64/182. The Plan of Action requested strengthened Member State cooperation against the illicit drug trafficking by focusing on cocaine, cannabis, and other narcotic drugs in general, but did not mention the issue of counterfeit drugs. This strategic planning continued during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), at which the Member States produced an outcome document called Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem.310 Although counterfeit drugs were not a primary topic of discussion during UNGASS, the session highlighted the importance of implementing new strategies, such as improved data collection and research mechanisms, to counter drug-related crimes. Counterfeit drugs and intellectual property Aside from the global health threat which stems from counterfeit drug trafficking, this crime also imposes a critical problem in terms of intellectual property rights. In 2009, the WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement met to discuss the impact of counterfeiting and piracy to the WIPO Development Agenda, highlighting that counterfeiting violates intellectual property rights as it acquires profits from stolen ideas and investments, which destabilizes the global economy altogether. In 2011, Member States adopted the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to combat counterfeiting and piracy by implementing an enhanced international framework on global trade.

Case law –

The most intriguing recent event was the final chapter of the criminal career of El chapo. Joaquin Guzman Loera, commonly known as El Chapo is the most celebrated drug lord who was known for his innovative techniques of smuggling drugs by using waterproof rubber condoms. It was recently discovered that he was the mind behind the successful delivery of hundreds of tons of drugs from Mexico to the United States. In his roaring criminal career as a drug lord, who was a representative of the Sinaloa drug cartel dodged the money trail by appointing IT consultants. Bringing an end to El Chapo was quite a notorious task. But the US justice system got to that final destination by bringing down comparatively easy targets. Edgar galvan, Antonio Marrufo (jaguar), was held for federal charges such as extortion, murder and kidnapping. Later in the year elchapo was held for drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, murder and was convicted in federal district court, Brooklyn on February 9, 2019. This judgment has indeed changed the face of drug trafficking. This case truly proved as an important milestone in the journey of putting a check on the illegal drug trade.


Counterfeit drugs are one of the most common and highly demanded forms of counterfeit goods and are a serious threat to international public health. Despite the number of current policies in place which have addressed the general issue of trafficking of illicit drugs, a variety of factors have contributed to the growing issue of counterfeit drug trafficking within the global community. Many global drug policies do not focus on the issue of counterfeit drugs, as a crime which involves the trafficking of illicit drugs is usually perceived as a higher priority by the many Member States. As a result, many Member States have set very low criminal penalties against those involved in counterfeit drug trafficking. In addition, the controversial debate on the global definition of counterfeit drugs has prevented the international community from establishing a solid framework against the issue. This has sparked a conflict of interest between the Member States and fueled debates that have focused on counterfeit drugs as a violation of intellectual property rights rather than as a global public health hazard. According to the INCB, effective international cooperation is necessary in order for the Member States to implement stronger policies against the threat of counterfeit drugs.

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