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29 Dec, 2014 14:13

Social media make UK 'a phenomenal market' for illegal drug sales - watchdog

Social media make UK 'a phenomenal market' for illegal drug sales - watchdog

Social media and accessing the internet through smartphones has made the UK a ‘phenomenal market’ for selling illicit drugs, according the chief of Britain’s medical regulator.

Alastair Jeffrey, head of enforcement at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that criminal gangs are increasingly turning to social media to sell recreational drugs, which they could push in higher volumes and at a lower cost than selling them directly on the streets.

Jeffrey also said that the MHRA had confiscated 1.2 million doses of illegal sexual performance-enhancing drugs, 383,000 weight loss supplements and 331,000 doses of sleeping medication and anti-depressants. According to MHRA research, many of the drugs originated from China and India, where the production of everyday drugs is booming.

“This is something we are looking at now in a serious way. There is a phenomenal market out there,”
Jeffrey told the Guardian.

“Smartphones have allowed people greater access to the internet, and all of a sudden this accessibility, combined with social media, has made a significant difference in how criminals reach consumers.”

Reuters/Paul Hackett

While some gangs take to the “dark web” and other internet encryption services to sell the medication, others are said to operate through websites claiming to be legitimate online pharmacies, selling drugs that people would be ‘reluctant’ to talk about with regular doctors, Jeffrey added.

While there is no official figure on how much those engaging in illicit drug dealing are expected to make, Bernard Leroy, the director of the International Institute of Research Against Medicines (IIRACM) in Paris, estimate that gangs could make up to €500 Euros for every euro they invested. In 2010, the World Customs Organization estimated that the global market for illegal drugs was worth around £130 billion.

In the UK, the MHRA works with social media companies as well as online retailers such as Ebay and Amazon to identify illicit traders. The group also works with the police to conduct raids on storage areas where the illicit drugs are held.

Additionally, it has worked with the social video website YouTube to shut down users directing people to websites that sell illegal pharmaceuticals.

The warnings come following research conducted by the Center for Economics and Business research (CEBR), showing that the UK overtook France, the fifth best performing economy in the world, thanks to its ‘vice’ economies.

The CEBR estimates that sex and drugs industries were generating around £11 billion per year, making the UK one of the most lucrative economies for indulging in the fruits of the ‘shadow economy.