Drug info charity criticised for illegal drug ads

A TAXPAYER-funded drugs information charity has shut part of its website - after it was flooded with ads for illegal drugs.

Crew 2000 had to close their forum after adverts for illegal drugs stayed online for months.

Adverts for potentially dangerous prescription drugs such as Tramadol were on Crew 2000’s online forum for as long as four months.

The charity, also known as Crew, got £50,000 from the Scottish Government to help set up the forum.

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But staff only deleted the adverts after journalists started making enquiries last week.

The Edinburgh-based service, which says it “neither condemns nor condones drug use”, has received a total of £500,000 from the Scottish Government over the last five years.

Last night, a spokesman for Taxpayer Scotland called the Crew 2000 forum a “taxpayer funded marketplace for illicit drugs.”

The discussion forum was set up to let drug users get tips and advice from other users, as well as Crew 2000 staff and volunteers. It was part of a bigger project that included a drug information website and mobile app.

But it was hijacked near the beginning of January by dubious overseas companies selling a wide range of substances usually only available on prescription.

On 5th January this year, the first adverts appeared for counterfeit versions of anti-cancer drugs Femara and Anastrozole, which sell online for as little as £1.67 per 2.5mg pill.

They were swiftly followed by adverts for other bogus medicines. These included a fake form of women’s fertility drug Clomid on 5th February. Thirty of the 100mg pills can be bought for £25.03 or 83 pence each.

Even more alarmingly, on 6th March, an advert appeared for addictive painkiller Tramadol. It is an illegal Class C drug unless given on prescription.

A link to a website selling drugs made in India offered ninety of the 100mg capsules for sale at $217 or £142.

Bromazepam - from the same “family” of drugs as diazepam - also appeared on 23rd April. It is sold as little as 76 pence per pill.

Last night, a spokesman for Taxpayers Scotland said: “Drug education and treatment is of course worthwhile, but a taxpayer-funded marketplace for illicit drugs is clearly beyond the pale.

“If Crew2000 are to receive so much taxpayers’ money, it needs to deliver on the promises they have made.

“Giving out grants does not mean devolving responsibility, though, so the Authorities need to step in if taxpayers’ money isn’t being used as well as it should be by organisations like this.”

Professor Neil McKeganey, director for the Centre of Drug Misuse and Research in Glasgow, said; “Any organisation needs to be aware that their site could be taken over by companies using it to market or sell drugs.

“One would have hoped that the person monitoring the site would have noticed a lot sooner. None of these drugs should be consumed except under medical supervision.

“It brings these sites to the attention of people who misuse or who have potential to misuse substances. In a sense it facilitates. That’s why these companies are putting these adverts on there - they are putting it there for people with the potential to misuse.”

Crew 2000’s chief executive Ella Crawshaw confirmed: “We are suspending the forum.

“Obviously we’ve been spammed. Our responsibility is to monitor that spam - unfortunately there that there was a problem and we weren’t able to monitor it fully enough.

“We are a very small voluntary organisation with limited resources and acute presentations.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed they had provided almost £500,000 in funding to Crew between 2009/10 and 2014/15.

The spokesman added: “Website administration is a matter for individual organisations.”