Narcotics Control Bureau's (NCB) latest crackdown on an online pharmacy network that shipped psychotropic drugs to customers in the U.S., Canada and Europe is the eleventh such case registered in the country and third in the State. A probe is under way into the matter as the investigators have information that many such networks are thriving in the State due to easy availability of the controlled drugs here and their sales overseas yield huge profits.

On September 28, a team from NCB's Chennai Zonal Unit arrested Russian national Alexander Vyukhin (48) who was running an online pharmacy network from his home near Auroville in Puducherry for the last five years.

His accomplice Shanker (48) of Villupuram who sourced large quantities of drugs, mainly anti-depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens from different parts of the country and sent them abroad, was also apprehended.

In the last five years, the duo is suspected to have made over Rs.1.5 crore, say NCB sources.

Vyukhin who was staying in India on a tourist visa was receiving regular email orders for Alpax, Oxycodone, Diazepam and other controlled drugs from a person suspected to be in the U.S. Stringent laws in the U.S., Canada and Europe raises a huge demand among users there for these drugs sourced from countries such as India where they are easily available over the counter.

Shanker, with a pharmaceutical background, received drug orders from Vyukhin along with the delivery address and had sent the drugs overseas via airmail and courier.

“The accused had sent fake tablets of medicine Vicodin and Hydrocodone that are not manufactured in India. The source behind the fake medicine is under investigation,” says S. Davidson Devasirvatham, NCB's Zonal Director.

The first case of an illegal online pharmacy network was reported in Chennai in 2006 in which five engineering graduates, including one with a pharmaceutical educational background, were held for sending large quantities of controlled drugs to an agent in U.S. by courier.

The second crackdown was in 2008 when the US-based Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alerted the NCB on a New York-based Indian receiving controlled drug from his relative in Coimbatore from 2005 onwards.

While DEA arrested the recipient, NCB apprehended the person who used to send the consignment and he is in prison now, NCB sources add.

According to Mr. Devasirvatham, higher prices and stringent laws in western countries led to a huge demand for stimulants, anti-depressants and hallucinogens from countries such as India where the drugs could be easily purchased.

“The three cases cracked can be considered only a tip of the iceberg. There are many who are involved in this illegal trade that is a source of easy and fat profit. We are enquiring on the source of drugs especially the fake tablets that Shanker had obtained and some pharmaceutical dealers and medical shops are under the scanner,” he adds.

The latest is the eleventh case registered in the country and third in the State, writes Petlee Peter