India needs to
tighten control on the sale of prescription drugs to stem
the spread of HIV, the Joint United Nations Programme on
HIV/AIDS said on Monday. Many painkillers and
sedatives are freely available over the counter in
India without any prescription from doctors or
hospitals, even though prescriptions are required by law.
Some drugs end up injected into users' veins, and
that is fueling an epidemic of intravenous drug
use and HIV infection.
"The problem is
the implementation of the law," said Suresh Kumar, who
advises UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, at a news
conference. "They are too few drug inspectors, and drug
users shift to pharmaceutical preparations that are
Drug users, who
no longer are satisfied by snorting or inhaling illicit
substances, buy drugs from chemists without prescriptions
(such as the painkiller Spasmoproxyvon), liquefy the
powder, and then inject it into their veins. And they
often share needles, a practice that has been shown to
contribute to the spread of HIV.
Only 2.6% of
India's 5.7 million HIV-positive people have
been infected with HIV through intravenous drug
use, but officials say that if intravenous drug
use is not checked, it could fuel the spread of
AIDS in the country with the world's highest caseload.
transmission may be small part of overall
transmission, but it can be a turbo engine for accelerating
the epidemic," UNAIDS regional adviser Swaroop Sarkar
said at an Asian conference on HIV risk among
intravenous drug users.
Many of India's
estimated 200,000 intravenous drug users visit
prostitutes, an activity that can expand the circle of
down on illegal sales of drugs, experts said India also
needed to prevent oral drug-users from switching to
Experts say that,
for many drug users in South Asia, the gap between
inhaling or snorting illegal substances and intravenous drug
use is two to three years. Government and
international agencies should use this period for
stepping up prevention programs.
"This is a window
of opportunity to intervene and prevent people from
crossing over into injection drug use," said Gordon
Mortimore, head of the Programme Management Office of
the U.K.'s Department for International Development,
India, which supports anti-AIDS programs. (Reuters)
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