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VOA Report Spurs Kurdish Crackdown on Drugs

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Following an investigative report by VOA’s Kurdish Service, the Kurdistan Regional Government strengthened penalties for buying and selling of pharmaceuticals on the black market, and for smuggling them across borders.

The VOA report, aired on the Kurd Connection television program several months ago, showed how legal painkillers are sold to Iraqi smugglers who move them into Iran. There, the medications are modified into illegal narcotics using a process similar to one used in the West to manufacture methamphetamines using antihistamine medications.

In announcing harsher penalties, the chief of the pharmaceutical office of the Kurdistan Regional National Security Council said that the change in the laws was a direct result of VOA's reporting.

The new law states that punishment for using or trading the illegal drugs is imprisonment without parole.

The medicines include amphetamine, tramadol, Somadril, Artane, valium, and tuseran syrup - all commonly used for pain relief and allergies.

“Smugglers [in the Kurdish region] take a type of medical pill to Iran where it’s widely traded,” said General Jalal Amin Beg, the head of the Directorate of Narcotic Drugs in Sulaimani province. “The pills are taken to secret labs in Iran and mixed with some chemical substance to modify them to dangerous drugs.”

Risk of addiction

These drugs can be dangerous if they are not restricted because they can be addictive to the user, medical experts say.

“The overuse of those drugs can cause vomiting, shivering and dizziness and they can be addictive if they are used for a long period of time,” Kardo Mahmoud, a Kurdish pharmaceutical specialist told VOA.

Even though Kurdish law prohibited trading medicines and described it as a serious crime, the penalties were loosened by Kurdish health authorities because of the need for medicines in the region.

“Because of this alteration [in the law] many people have now turned to trading with these drugs,” Beg told VOA this fall.

Beg said he and other officials tried to get the laws changed and asked the Kurdish legislative body to enact stricter penalties. But it wasn’t until VOA aired a follow-up report that a draft law was passed and the criminal code changed in October.

“It seems that the interview with VOA/Kurdish service has been effective,” Beg told VOA.