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Drugs Sold Over the Counter Fuel HIV in India

December 18, 2006

Injection drug users (IDUs) in India are easily circumventing prescription laws for pain medications and sedatives, resulting in an informal market that is raising HIV risks, UNAIDS reported recently. Though by law many painkillers and sedatives require a prescription, these are nevertheless sometimes sold over the counter in India.

"The problem is the implementation of the law," Suresh Kumar, an advisor to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, told a news conference. "[There] are too few drug inspectors, and drug users shift to pharmaceutical preparations that are readily available."

IDUs are buying the painkillers, crushing them and suspending their ingredients in a solution they inject. They often share needles, which easily spreads HIV.

"Intravenous drug transmission may be a small part of overall transmission, but it can be a turbo engine for accelerating the epidemic," said Swaroop Sarkar, UNAIDS regional advisor. Currently, 2.6 percent of HIV infections in India are IDU-related, said officials.

For many South Asian drug users, a few years elapse between using inhalants, progressing to snorting, and then to injecting drugs, said experts. "This is a window of opportunity to intervene and prevent people from crossing over into injecting drug use," said Gordon Mortimore, head of the Program Management Office of Britain's Department for International Development-India.

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