Illicit trade in prescribed drugs

Other Names:
Illegal commerce in pharmaceutical drugs

There is a rapid expansion of the underworld trade and abuse of so-called mood-shaping drugs. These chemical compounds are manufactured on a massive scale, largely in the great drug laboratories of the industrial world, and increasingly consumed in the Third World.

There are hundreds of different kinds designated psychotropic, which range from tranquillisers like valium and librium to hallucinogens including LSD, barbiturates (downers) and stimulants (uppers) such as amphetamine, known universally as 'speed'. Although many are legally prescribed, several are banned or in heavily restricted official use in most countries, notably the hallucinogen family of which LSD is the father, and hypnotics (used as sleep aids) such as Mandrex. All of them figure in widespread abuse in the Third World, often in tandem with traditional home-grown drugs such as cannabis or opiates. Although a convention on psychotropic substances was adopted in Vienna in 1971, aimed at controlling the manufacture and trade of some of the most dangerous substances, many important manufacturing countries including Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Japan, have not yet signed it. The pharmaceutical industry has often lobbied against curbs and drug control agencies have been reluctant to identify and blacklist companies that do not adequately police the distribution of their products.


Massive seizures of illicit supplies are reported regularly all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Illicit trade in these drugs in the USA is put at a retail value of up to $21 billion annually, considerably more than twice the retail value of the heroin trade. Up to 250 million dosage units of controlled drugs production in the USA are diverted to the illicit trade.

Related Problems:
Drug smuggling
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST