“Drugs in Cyberspace:  Understanding & Investigating Diversion & Distribution of Controlled Substances via the Internet”

This report was prepared for the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission’s (CICAD) Experts Group Meetings in August of 2006.

The full report is available online at:

CICAD’s main website is located at:

Report Summary:

There are three types of internet drug sales – illegal substances, illegal sales of licitly produced substances, and counterfeits of legitimate controlled substances.
Three types of countries identified:
Countries already facing the problem (U.S.);
Countries not yet afflicted, but they will be as online pharmacies seek weaker regulatory environments;
Countries that believe they are not afflicted, but they have simply failed to detect illegal operations within their borders.
Internet pharmacies are a growing problem.
Prescription drug abuse is serious problem – only “growth area” in illegal substance abuse today.
Hard to ascertain the exact number of websites offering illegal transactions, but this number is likely growing.
No controls to prevent the sale of pharmaceuticals to children.
Unique problems of internet.
Numerous actors involved in sale and distribution of products – they are hard to identify.
Actors involved in transactions may all be located in different countries.
Multiple actors involved in producing and maintaining a website; include webhosting companies, internet service providers (ISP), and domain names registrars.
Investigative Challenges.
Difficult to track and shutdown websites.
Website ownership data is easy to fabricate.
Assuming the website is not a fraud and it actually ships drugs – shipments allow a more traditional method of locating the supplier.
Awareness and Education about the Problem.
Governments need to work with internet search engines, credit card and payment services companies, and transportation and courier firms.  These firms need to be made aware of the problem.
Public service announcements would be helpful – stress the danger of receiving fake medications.
Need better regulatory drug control and better law enforcement training.
Need for legislation.
Many countries need legislation to facilitate the prosecution of illegal online pharmaceutical sales.

Specific legislation suggestions:
Require a specific license or registration for internet pharmacies.
Ensure that prescriptions are based off legitimate in person evaluations by a doctor of a patient.
Designate clear lines of authority for regulating and investigating internet pharmacies.
Allow authorities to conduct undercover investigations.
Provide for the ability to intercept communications between parties involved in the supply of the illicit pharmaceuticals.
Allow investigators to require online operators to preserve communications, and allow investigators to request the cooperation of ISP’s, credit card companies, and courier services.
Ensure adequate authority to execute search warrants on all elements of internet pharmacy operations.
Allow investigators to seize assets of those involved in internet narco-trafficking.
Investigations may be initiated by performing undercover buying from target websites or by using information provided by courier companies.
Countries should establish “internet coordination centers” which would be one agency designated as the primary oversight organization for all investigations of internet pharmacies.  This center would serve as the national liaison in international investigations.
Need harsher punishments for internet traffickers to deter others.
Internet investigations can be more costly than traditional drug dealer investigations, but this should not be a deterrent for government prosecutions.